Greenification: More or Less?

April 8, 2010

Have you planted your garden yet? It's getting a little late, so you might want to pick up some seeds or seedlings at the hardware store, if you hoped to grow your own vegetables this summer.

No matter how hard you try, however, it's very unlikely that you'll be able to grow everything your household consumes. So now that we've discussed what you can grow, let's talk about what you can't.

Is it so bad to package things in a little plastic? Maybe it is, but maybe it isn't.

We all want to be as “locavore” and “sustainable” as possible, but when is packaging actually greener than unpackaged food?

I think that decision has to be on a case by case basis for both the producer and consumer. For instance, if a farmer produces cucumbers and sends them off to the plant to be packed and shipped, a little packaging – as little as 1.5 grams of plastic wrap can extend the shelf life by an extra 3 to 14 days. Apples, grapes and potatos shrink-wrapped can cut down on bruising by 27 percent.

Vegetable producers are making a conscious tradeoff there: tiny amount of plastic in order to have less waste in the food supply. When you consider some studies suggest that Americans waste half of the food they buy (six times more food than packaging!), and decaying food produces methane gas that is more potent than carbon dioxide, a little plastic could go a long way towards eliminating some of that waste.

In some European countries, they calculate that if we stopped wasting food, it would be as if realizing the same carbon footprint savings of taking one of every five cars off the road. That would be an impressive savings, indeed!

So when you go to the market, consider the grapes in their packaging and the potatos in their wrap. Is that more or less green? The answer isn't immediately apparent. You may be able to learn something for your own business, there, too. Certainly we all might learn something about how to store our cucumbers.


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