I applaud the Co-op staff’s efforts towards achieving Zero Waste in-house. The Co-operator article, “Refocusing the 3 R’s” from 10/31/2018 (https://tinyurl.com/recyling3Rs) was enlightening, and I’m hoping for an update. In particular, there is still so much single-use plastic packaging in the store that shoppers take home and then must dispose of in a responsible way. That’s getting harder to do as recycling systems break down in the wake of China’s refusal to continue accepting our waste.

I’ve become especially concerned about plastic that comes in contact with my food and beverages (see the excellent comprehensive review by the Center for International Environmental Law of the human health impacts of ingesting, absorbing and inhaling the chemicals in plastic, like endocrine disruptors: https://tinyurl.com/plastichealth). I just don’t even look at whole classes of discretionary items when I’m in the store, like baked goods and prepared deli foods, all of which are wrapped in single-use plastic. It may take some time to influence other producers of foods that the Co-op carries to explore alternatives to plastic packaging – like re-usable containers. When the Co-op is the producer and packager, we need to get out ahead of the crowd in terms of implementing the healthiest, most environmentally friendly practices.

So, what’s in the pipeline for the Co-op in this regard? What are other stores doing that we might adopt to reduce the amount of single-use plastics packaging that customers must accept if they want to purchase certain products that are under the store’s control?

pat buddemeyer
East End Food Co-operative member-owner and shopper
What’sSUP? Single-use Plastics Reduction Challenge 2019 participant
on Facebook: “SUP Challenge Pittsburgh”

Hi Pat,

Thank you for the note and for following along as the Co-op works to enhance our sustainability. The issue of single-use plastics is on the minds of many people these days, including the operators of your Co-op. As you read in the article you referenced, one of our tactics to increase sustainability is partnering with local experts. Currently, Pennsylvania Resources Council is guiding us through a waste audit, providing recycling educational programming and giving technical assistance to aid in future improvements to our current waste management system.

We always strive to do the least harm to our environment and we have many sustainability initiatives already in place. The reduction of single-use plastics is certainly deserving of our attention. As we’ve learned and researched, what we’ve often come up against is a painful realization that there is no perfect solution to this problem. Our world has become accustomed to the convenience offered by single-use plastics and it will take time and deliberate actions by businesses and consumers to back off the plethora of plastic we encounter every day. As the Co-op works to find alternatives, we also encourage all our shoppers and members to be accountable for their own habits. We offer as many alternatives to plastic as we reasonably can. This is evident in our product guidelines that prioritize local, organic foods and items that come in returnable or recyclable packaging. We encourage and even incentive reuse through our 10 cent reusable bag and reusable mug credit. And we offer many alternatives to single-use plastics, like glass jars and canvas produce bags. We have the largest bulk foods department in Pittsburgh, where consumers can bring their own jars to fill with hundreds of products, from pantry staples to soaps. Our zero waste shopping demonstrations are getting noticed, and we are invited into the community to present this shopping method often.

In terms of your specific question about café packaging, we are looking to source compostable solutions that are BPI certified. These are not easily accessible through our distributors without having to purchase large quantities at a time, and we do not have storage space to order that way. This shift may not come quickly, but we are making efforts to reduce our share of single-use plastics.

Thank you for your note. We will continue to provide updates to our membership as we go along this sustainability journey!

Kate Safin
East End Food Co-op
Marketing & Member Services Manager