Whole Fools Reignites Rage About Over-Packaging

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: editor@plasticpollutioncoalition.org. Please put “Overpackaging” in the subject line.

Top photo: Michelle Taylor Cehn, WorldOfVegan.com

15 responses to “Whole Fools Reignites Rage About Over-Packaging”

  1. Andrew Kornblatt says:

    This kinda misses the issue of people with disabilities who may need this type of product and the opportunity to work together to come to sustainable solutions for that marginalized community.

  2. Lucy Walker says:

    Seconding Andrew’s comment. My initial response was that this is ridiculous as well! But as able-bodied people, we not only often forget but rarely ever really even think of issues of accessibility. So, let’s find a way to fight the plastic without denying accessibility.

  3. Kelly Morris says:

    Actually that’s not what everyone was thinking. Some people were thinking wow, an accessible option for customers with disabilities that can’t peel oranges.

  4. Kelly gamage says:

    There’s ways around that without using packaging like that.
    If you are that disabled that you can’t peel your own fruit then I doubt you’d be out shopping for it yourself. Maybe your Carer that’s doing the shopping could peel it for you? There are also reusable devices to assist with doing it yourself. Last resort just don’t buy that particular fruit.
    Before you start saying I have no idea…I care full time for my disabled husband so I actually know what I am talking about.
    Producing millions of extra tons of completely unnecessary plastics for the convenience of a small group disabled is lunacy. The disabled community cares about the environment too. We are much more concerned with real discrimination like easy access to buildings, ease of parking and stopping entitled idiots from parking in the .

  5. Katia Ananieva Hernandez says:

    this is nonsense, Whole Foods!

  6. angelaleann@gmail.com says:

    Ditto, Andrew. Convenience packaging is often the safest and most usable way for people with trouble with arthritis, mobility, dexterity, and other disabilities.

  7. gggggggggggggg@gmail.com says:

    I used to work at a grocery co-op that sampled produce to the customers. We were required to prepare samples according to food safety standards. But we were essentially peeling oranges (and kiwis, etc) on demand for people. Maybe other groceries could consider offering this as a service. Any store like that should already have hand washing stations and a sanitization method for knives/cutting boards. Just weigh the produce before preparing it, there shouldn’t be any issue. Perhaps the customer could even bring their own packaging.

  8. Tacicia Bryan says:

    Please check the spelling with the title. Otherwise, great article.

  9. shop@buenokeen.com says:

    I have severs arthritis and live in a rural community where this is not an option. Luckily there is also an industry that makes tools to make food prep easier. I’m also wondering if the plastic container is easier to open than using my special knife to peel the orange. Sometimes I think those plastic containers were made to torture people like me.

  10. eglazner@gmail.com says:

    ‘Whole Fools’ was intentional, though we wholly approve of the company’s quick action in pulling the overpackaged oranges so quickly.

  11. John Barress says:

    I could not believe my eyes but unfortunately I saw papaya packed in plastic other day in a supermarket here in my town. It is crazy, I ask why?

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