Trader Joe's is making big changes to its produce department

If there's one knock on Trader Joe's, it's the chain's overzealous use of plastic in its produce department. From clamshells of basil to mesh sacks of onions, it seems like every fruit, vegetable, and herb is encased in some sort of plastic packaging with no regard to necessity. But that's all about to change. 

It's been a long time coming, and customers have been voicing their complaints for years. In January 2018, Trader Joe's spoke to the issue of plastic waste in an announcement on the company's website, citing customer demand for protection of their produce, as well as convenience in carrying it (though this petition with over 100,000 signatures suggest customers disagree). At that time, they noted that more than 50 percent of their produce was sold without packaging, reminding concerned citizens of their commitment to using recyclable/recycled materials. But those reassurances did little to stop customers from lamenting what they still consider an egregious use of plastic, and some have even stopped shopping at the store because of it. 

But finally, in July's installment of the Inside Trader Joe's podcast, the company representatives explained that they have already increased sustainability in its produce department and are continuing to do so, including an overall reduction in packaging, as well as a move to more environmentally-friendly packaging when necessary. According to Food & Wine, the podcast hosts spoke to Jack Salamon, produce category manager at Trader Joe's, who explained that one of the changes customers will see immediately is more loose produce. "You'll see it in our potato and onion section, and in our apples. We have more loose apples than we did before, and more loose potatoes and onions, too," he said. Salamon was quick to caution, however, that some things simply can't be sold loose, like blueberries, but said Trader Joe's is testing two new types of packaging for those instances, including fiber till, which is a cardboard-like material that is both biodegradable and compostable. These moves were made in the hopes of eliminating 1 million pounds of plastic from stores in 2019, but that goal has already been hit. "We are on track to eliminate 4 million pounds of plastic from our stores in 2019 and 2.5 million pounds of that plastic has come directly out of the produce section," Salamon noted.

For a grocery store to eliminate that much waste in a year would be reason enough to celebrate, but there's another reason Trader Joe's customers will revel in this change: It's going to save them money. According to Salamon (via SFGate), something like two heads of garlic, which was previously sold bundled in a plastic mesh bag with a paper header (things that cost money), would set you back $1.39. With the removal of all that unnecessary packaging, you're looking at just 49 cents per head. Less waste going to landfills and more money staying in your pocket? That's a win-win.