Tue, Jul

The PLU Flu – Get those Price-Look-Up Labels Off My Apples!


ACCORDING TO LIZ - Ever been annoyed with those little stickers that are now ubiquitous on produce, here and around the world? When you want to eat an apple, even if you peel it off, there’s this sticky residue – do you eat it or cut it off?

For those of us who have been composting waste in our back yards, there’re gummy messes of agglutinated tags to pull out before you amend your earth – or do you just dig them under and hope they don’t give the earthworms heartburn?

A majority of people around the world now consider climate change as the top global threat, ahead of terrorism and cyberattacks.

Yet the proliferation of plastics in multiple forms is a significant contributor to environmental damage as well as climate change. Like nuclear waste, these petrochemical products take generations to break down.

Unlike product labeling, PLU stickers did not enter our grocery stores by government fiat.

Corporations pay cashiers too little to inspire loyalty and longevity and have replaced workers who used to track inventory with these sticky bits of plastic allowing machines to identify products, compute costs and maintain inventory.

If only they would give their employees as much respect as they give their bottom lines.

Dole and Chiquita, the companies behind the American castration of Mexico, Columbia and Central America, used labels on their bananas in an attempt to inspire brand loyalty.

Pink Lady, which is the brand name for an apple grown in Australia, features its heart-shaped stickers to set their product apart from other apples and help consumers to recognize it.

Gotta love those marketing whores: who the f*¢k cares if you love your apple or need to know the banana you peel comes from slave labor enriching the shareholders of Dole or Chiquita?

While PLU coding is currently only used in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Mexico, New Zealand, Sweden, Norway and Australia, all countries wishing to export produce to any of these countries are forced on board, thereby encouraging further proliferation.

Glory be.

Trashing PLU stickers in with fruit and vegetable waste creates plastic pollution in the compost collection chain feeding into the food and organic waste recycling starting up now in Los Angeles.

But the contracted facility’s anaerobic digesters get indigestion from PLU plastic. Not a great prognosis for when state-imposed fines start hitting the City and its residents in six months.

Sorting of stickers at the composting facility is time-consuming and therefore labor and cost intensive. Too often, this results in PLU-contaminated organic waste being dumped in landfills, creating more methane, which has a global warming potential 25 times that of carbon dioxide.

Around the world, waste management companies and recycling experts pinpoint PLUs as the worst contaminant of all non-biodegradables and are advocating for an outright ban.

Contaminants in compost degrade quality and transfer toxicity into the soil. Awareness of micro-plastic pollution in our oceans and waterways has been in the news of late... But how many know that their potential to pollute our land is 4 to 23 times greater?

If not eaten first, the lifespan of a healthy fruit or vegetable is probably a few weeks. But the PLU’s lifespan is probably measured in decades, after which the sticker will likely erode into micro-plastics that are building up in the world around us.

Best PLU quote?

From a spokesperson for Business Waste in the UK: “It’s quite literally a fruitless waste... The fruit has its own packaging as provided by Mother Nature – why on earth do we find it necessary to pop a bit of plastic on to make a healthy snack into an environmental hazard?”

PLU stickers are usually created out of a thin layer of plastic, such as vinyl – companies claim it offers better resistance to water and the transportation and packaging processes – along with adhesive and inks.

The stickers are required to be food grade — but that’s a far cry from being compostable. They may be approved for ingestion but, like chewing gum, are not remotely digestible.

The food purveying profiteers and their fossil fuel friends can claim that the plastics used in fresh produce (over)packaging is essential for maintaining hygiene and integrity of food items.

But the main reason is just another excuse to leverage their profit margins. Maybe not by much per item... but when multiplied by billions of products.

Personally I prefer a little dirt on my cucumbers than a plastic skin that I am embarrassed to have to throw in my black bin. And I hate when peeling a PLU rips away the healthy protective skin of a fruit leaving it oozing juice and attracting flies.

I’d favor paying a penny per item more for well-paid cashiers and human inventory trackers. And would admire any company that would take the fractional cost out of ever-escalating corporate profits.                                                                                                                                    

Ocean levels are rising, the British Empire has fallen with those of Russia and America trembling on the brink but, like cockroaches, produce stickers aren’t biodegradable, can’t be recycled and will hang on. Long after mankind has bitten the dust.

As consumers, we need to demand companies put plastic PLUs behind them.

Our planet needs an immediate vaccine to the PLU Flu before PLU season tanks the planet.

(Liz Amsden is a contributor to CityWatch and an activist from Northeast Los Angeles with opinions on much of what goes on in our lives. She has written extensively on the City's budget and services as well as her many other interests and passions.  In her real life she works on budgets for film and television where fiction can rarely be as strange as the truth of living in today's world.)

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