“Paper vs. Plastic?”  Terra Firma subscribers are aware that most of the time, when it comes to the packaging we use in your boxes, we usually make the choice for you.  This is the process we use to decide:

Whenever possible, we leave produce items unpackaged.  Sturdy items that are large enough, can be positioned to not roll around, and don’t need to be kept moist are left to fend for themselves in your boxes:  squash, onions, garlic, corn, cabbages, oranges, apples & pears, etc.

Small items that we have to weigh, or that are delicate, must be bagged at the farm. If possible and practical, we put these items in paper bags:  tomatoes, strawberries, figs, peaches, etc.

At the end of the packaging matrix at TFF, however, are the items that must be bagged in plastic.  These are either wet when we bag them (potatoes), or need to kept moist (green beans/peas), or both (greens, broccoli, etc).

We are certainly aware that plastic is the least renewable/ sustainable packaging option — it is made from oil, and there are concerns about its effects on human health.  And even though recycling is available for it now, it tends to become pollution, especially in the ocean.

On the other hand, plastic has one very large merit:  it can double or triple the life of many perishable produce items when they are stored at the correct temperature.

For years we have chosen to pack our Table Grapes in paper bags.  We even switched from bleached to unbleached paper.

Last week, our Packing Shed Manager discovered a pile of dust-covered boxes while he was cleaning the warehouse.  Inside were clear plastic clamshells that our packaging supplier had given us many years ago as a “demo”.  We had never used them.

We decided that instead of letting them continue to molder, we would pack last week’s grapes in the clamshells — which turned out to hold exactly the right weight of fruit.  We also happened to be temporarily short on the paper bags.

We received several complaints from subscribers asking us to switch back to paper bags, giving us plenty of valid reasons.  We appreciate the feedback, and at this time do not intend to purchase any additional plastic clamshells.  However, we do plan to use up the ones that we have on hand — although maybe not to pack grapes.  To throw them into the recycling bin without using them at all would be — we think — worse than having you recycle them after a single use.

Unfortunately, food safety laws do not allow us to re-use containers that are not lined with an additional layer of material.  However, you may find another one or two uses for the clamshells before sending them to the recycler.

As always, we appreciate feedback from our subscribers on what we are doing and how to make it better.  In the future we will continue to use as little plastic as we can without compromising the quality of the produce we send you.