Stickers on my fruit

My new home is in a state that produces a lot of apples and other fruit. One of the things that we enjoy is a late summer or early autumn trip over the Cascade mountains to some of the fruit growing areas of our state. A box of apples and other boxes of peaches, apricots, cherries, plums, or other fruit are common purchases. We were purchasing fruit to take home before we moved out here. When we came to visit our children and grandchildren, we made a point of stopping at fruit stands to enjoy the fresh fruit and purchase some to take home. One of the luxuries of my life is made possible by special methods of fruit storage, is that I can purchase apples to eat at the grocery store year round. However, I generally avoid purchasing the individual fruits from the big bins in the grocery store produce department. Instead, I seek out small bags of apples that are also common in our grocery store.

I’ve got a couple of reasons for avoiding the individual fruits in the bin. The first is that the apples on display are very large - usually more than one portion in a fruit. I prefer to have a smaller apple that I can reasonably consume in a single meal. The second is that I find the price look up (PLU) stickers to be incredibly annoying. They aren’t easily removed. They don’t scrub off when you wash the fruit. You have to have good fingernails to slip one under the tiny labels and after you remove it, adhesive remains on the fruit. It isn’t a big deal when the sticker is on a banana, as I peel the fruit before eating. However, I don’t peel apples. I enjoy eating the skin.

Common wisdom around the grocery store is that the stickers are edible. However, that isn’t quite the case. The official statement from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t exactly say that the stickers are edible: “Because produce stickers have contact with food, the intended use of these stickers is the subject of premarket approval by the Food and Drug Administration, to ensure that any substances that may migrate to food from the use of the sticker is safe. As these stickers are intended to be removed before consumption of produce, the F.D.A.’s review does not include the exposure that would result from regular consumption of these labels. However, as these substances are of low toxicity, any exposure from the occasional, unintentional consumption of a sticker would not be expected to be a health concern.”

That is a lot of words, but I’m pretty sure that “of low toxicity” isn’t exactly the same as “edible.”

There is another problem with the stickers. We compost food waste at our son’s farm and it is easy to notice, from the compost piles, that the stickers do not compost. They remain as contamination in the soil after the composting is complete. That means for those who use the composting services of the garbage collection company are inadvertently contaminating the compost produced there as well.

Maya Thiru, a ten-year-old from Markham, Ontario, Canada, has become the public face of a campaign to end the use of the stickers. Friends of the Earth Canada (FOE) is an environmental advocacy group, contacted by Maya, that has been helping her get the word out. She has challenged other kids to collect the stickers on sheets of paper and mail them to legislators and governmental officials as part of a campaign to have the stickers included in the federal single-use plastic ban.

It’s a good thing I occasionally read CBC Kids articles - something a grandpa does in search of topics to discuss with his grandchildren. I might not have realized that the reason the stickers don’t compost is that they are made out of plastic.

Despite some public awareness campaigns like the one that features Maya in their advertisements, objections to the stickers hasn’t caught on - at least not in the places I shop. I find it especially annoying to see them on all of the fruit and vegetables in our local co-op grocery store, a place that generally charges higher prices for higher quality organically-produced fruit and vegetables. Here is a bit of trivia for you. The numbers on the stickers help stores to distinguish between conventional and organic produce. Stickers that start with the numbers 3 or 4 mean the item was grown conventionally, and those starting with 9 indicate the item was grown organically. That’s right, farmers go through a long and careful process to be able to sell their produce as certified organic only to have tiny plastic labels stuck to the food with water-proof glue. And, for the record, the tiny labels are not themselves organically produced.

We have a special recycling service called Ridwell, that collects and recycles plastic film. This enables us to reduce the amount of garbage from our house that ends up in the landfill. We are trying very hard to keep as much plastic as possible out of the landfill. Part of that effort is to simply use less plastic. We are careful to use reusable bags when shopping instead of taking bags from the store. We try to limit our purchasing of plastic items. And we seek places that recycle as much plastic as we are able. Ridwell, however, cannot recycle PLU stickers, so putting them in our recycling bag simply creates contamination in the recycling process. As far as I know the only way to responsibly get rid of the tiny stickers is to follow the advice of Maya Thiru, and stick them to letters to legislators asking them to ban their use.

I’m pretty sure that a ban wouldn’t appeal to the sellers of fruit and vegetables. The stickers are used around the world, so they are on imported items like avocados and tomatoes and mangos. They enable stores to stock organic and conventional produce next to each other and charge appropriate prices at checkout.

Those little stickers drive me up the wall. I know, I sound like an old Andy Rooney tag at the end of a 60 Minutes television program. Maybe this, and other journal entries of mine, is the product of the ramblings of an aging brain. Still, I wish someone would find an alternative to those annoying stickers.

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