It's great that there is growing awareness and action around reducing food and drink packaging over recent weeks, in a big part due to David Attenborough highlighting the problems caused by plastic pollution in the seas on the recent Blue Planet series.
We've had quite a few enquiries from customers asking about our use of plastic bags (currently made from Low Density Polyethelene (LDPE) for some of our produce (leafy greens mainly) so here's what we're doing.
We've tried compostable/biodegradable bags in the past but these absorbed moisture from the leafy vegetables that were packed in them and so didn't work for our products. Also, as they were opaque, they didn't display the produce well in a shop or market stall. We're also aware that 'compostable bags' only actually compost if the conditions are just right.
We've recently sourced some bags made from wood pulp, which we've trialled with a box scheme that we supply and currently awaiting feedback. These are strong and see through but they are 10 times the cost of the current bags we use though, and not on a wicket, so not as practical for packing into.
We've also had samples of some bags made from recycled plastic, but these were not at all strong and not suitable. Not sure why, as we have also used carrier bags made from recycled plastic which are much stronger.
We are currently looking into oxo-biodegradable plastic, which seem like a good solution. Bags made from oxo-biodegradable plastic can be made in factories currenty making normal plastic bags, but just need a small amount of an additive to make them oxo-biodegradable, which should make them comparable to other bags we use in practical terms and not add much cost. It seems this technology has been used in some countries for over 10 years but is not widely used in Europe so I haven't found a supplier yet. Would also be good to get an expert, impartial opinion on whether it is truly biodegradable before we go further. (There seems to be quite a bit of confusion betwewen degradable (breaks down into micro plastic) and oxo-biodegradable).
Our own box scheme customers can return bags that have held our greens to us, and we re-use them to pack our box scheme potatoes into.
We'll keep researching and trying alternatives, and we often bunch greens such as kale and chard rather than bagging them but the mixed leaf salad and stir fry mixes we supply do need to be in a bag and in the winter many of the greens we harvest are too small to be bunched. We have realised in our research though, that it's not as simple as 'plastic' is bad, 'paper/card/compostable' is good. You do also have to consider the energy used in producing and transporting the packaging as well as where it ends up at the end of its life. See this report from Riverford, who commissioned a packaging study with the University of Exeter https://www.riverford.co.uk/aboutus/environment-ethics/how-green-are-we/packaging
Now the issue is in the spotlight, there needs to be either legislation (some countries, including Rwanda, have banned the plastic bag!) or the big supermarkets, with all their buying power need to demand sustainable packaging options. Then it will be easier for the small businesses like us, to source sustainable packaging.
We source our paper bags from the Soil Association, and these are made from 100% recycled paper.
The outer crates that we use for our own box scheme, and for deliveries to other box schemes and independent shops are re-used repeatedly. The shops we supply are happy for us to take away wooden crates that have used to pack organic produce in previously, and are designed as single-use packaging - we get plently more use from them (and then often, one final use as kindling). We also have some very strong, stackable, plastic crates that we have been re-using for most of 20 years! (That's a good use of plastic)
And, on the subject of single use wooden crates, here's some of the lovely artwork that decorates them, another reason why we like to re-use them.