By Elizabeth Glazner
To their credit, it took barely two days for Whole Foods to pull some mandarin oranges from stores after a customer in Oakland, Calif. posted pictures of them online. The oranges had been pre-peeled and packaged in plastic deli containers, in a stunning display of human misreckoning. Plastic Pollution Coalition discovered the photo, taken by Michelle Taylor Cehn of WorldOfVegan.com and posted on Facebook Feb. 29, tweeted about it, and it quickly went viral. One re-tweeter chaffed, "If only nature would find a way to cover these oranges so we didn't need to waste so much plastic on them."
That's what everyone was thinking. Soon, not just Treehugger, but Fox News, Huffington Post, and even the BBC picked up the story, and a week's worth of news cycles later, people are still talking about it. This could turn out to be a watershed moment in bringing attention to wasteful practices in food packaging we have for too long taken for granted.
We don't know how many customers actually threw down $5.99 per pound (at least a 400 percent markup) for the convenience of not having to peel their oranges, but mandarins, like tangerines, are already defined as "loose-skin oranges." Everyone knows those Trader Joe's "Cuties" (which are clementines, a type of mandarin) practically peel themselves.
Plastic packaging tears at the heart of environmentalists because so much of it is simply unnecessary, and all that tonnage of extraneous plastic is most likely going to end up in landfills, or worse. According to Discover, 63 pounds of plastic packaging per person ends up in landfills in the United States every year.
Retailers often claim wrapping produce in plastic extends its shelf life, but according to Giant Eagle, a supermarket chain based in Pittsburgh, "citrus fruits are ripe when picked and most do not continue to ripen after harvest."
Their instruction continues: "Store fruit at room temperature if it will be eaten in a week. If not, refrigerate for up to eight weeks. Keep fruit in a mesh or perforated bag—avoid airtight containers."
Is plastic packaging of produce really necessary, or is it created to boost sales? You judge:
Do you have an overpackaging encounter you'd like to share? Send us a picture and we'll post it: email@example.com. Please put "Overpackaging" in the subject line.
Top photo: Michelle Taylor Cehn, WorldOfVegan.com