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vegetable packaging

Posted 4/4/2019 1:38pm by Harland;s Creek Farm.

This winter, Harland's Creek Farm researched ways to move away from plastic packaging. Judy read numerous articles and talked to Rhonda Sherman, NC State Solid Waste specialist. We learned we should avoid items that are merely biodegradable but not compostable because biodegradable can mean the material is a composite of plastic and plant material. The plant material degrades in sunlight, but tiny pieces of plastic remain. What is needed are materials that are ultimately converted into water and CO2 by bacteria, that is, we want something that bacteria can consume in its entirety.

First, we got excited about various certified-compostable bags. However, there was a catch. These bags are guaranteed compostable at industrial composting facilities. They cannot be put into the waste stream that ends at the landfill because they will end up in an anaerobic environment, (read no bacteria operating). For them to breakdown, Certified-compostable must enter a waste stream that ends at an industrial composting facility.

No problem, we decided, we will have the customer return their bags, and we will take them to the local industrial composting facility. Judy called, and the facility refused to take them saying they only served customers for whom the compostable bags are mixed with a large volume of other compostable waste.

These biobags, as they are called, are broken down by thermophilic bacteria that thrive at temperatures 120-140 degrees Fahrenheit. Several of Judy's friends, however, told her they tossed biobags full of kitchen waste in their home compost pile and they eventually disappeared. Not being industrial composters, these friends had no idea of how long it took or what the temperature inside their pile was. "Maybe three months," one said.  

We are now testing composting biobags on our farm monitoring the time and temperature of the pile. So far we were able to get the temperature up to 105 degrees Fahrenheit on a cold day. If we are successful, these bags may become an option in the future, but not now.

Then we discovered glassine bags, which are used in the baking industry. They are made of polished paper and are translucent. They are recyclable, biodegradable, and compostable in a home compost pile. We have decided to use these for our small, leafy greens.

So here is our new bottom line policy: So here is our new bottom line policy:

  • Large-leafed greens, as well as beets, carrots, and so on, will be bunched using paper twist-ties. The paper in the twist-ties composts quickly in a home compost pile, and the thin wire rusts quickly. Twist ties can be reused by the customer.
  • Tender greens, such as head lettuce, will be packed in trimmed paper bags so you can see the product. Things like okra, green beans, eggplant, potatoes, squash, etc. will be displayed at market in containers we take home and reuse. If the customer does not have their own bag to put these in, we will put them in paper bags for transport. These can to in the regular waste stream, be reused by the customer, and will quickly break down in your home compost pile.
  • Small-leafed greens, such as spinach, arugula, salad mix, baby greens, will be packed in glassine bags.
  • If you need a shopping bag, we will provide you with a paper bag.  
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