Fruit and vegetables can return to the earth, but what about the stickers? Unfortunately, due to their plastic nature they break down into micro-plastics that pose a threat to the environment and wildlife.
How do produce stickers contribute to climate change?
A small item that is useful for only days/weeks has quite a footprint. When it comes to commercial composting facilities, fruit stickers are known as one of the top three contaminants (alongside glass and plastic). It is difficult for them to be picked up in the screening process which puts them at risk of contaminating large loads of compost. If large loads of fruit and veg arrive at a compost facility (usually from a supermarket or food waste initiative), the facility has to reject the load or spend hours removing the stickers.
If food isn't composted or eaten it is destined for landfill where it doesn't have access to the correct variables (oxygen, heat & micro organisms) to help it break down to nourish the earth again. Instead, it will sit there and produce nasty greenhouse gases (helloooo methane). You can read more about the difference between composting and landfills here.
On top of contaminating compost facilities, the production of fruit stickers involves electricity, resources, water, and transport which could all be significantly reduced by employing more sustainable methods such as laser labels
Ecomark, a German company, has developed a Natural Branding solution for fruit and vegetables that is fast, flexible and economical.
The laser machines are fitted with a conveyor belt that allows products to be marked whilst moving through the machine without stopping. The fruit and veg can be carried through individually or in large crates. The high-tech camera identifies the position of each fruit, sends it to the laser within milliseconds, and then marks each product according to a pre-set criteria. The machines can automatically balance height differences of the products. *Fancy shhmaaancy*
The topmost cell layer of the skin is depigmented, and only the outermost layer of the peel is removed. This means that the taste, quality and shelf-life of the product is not affected.
There are no chemical additives, packaging materials or stickers used in the process. Check it out below.
What are the benefits?
Economical:Takes roughly 0.1 seconds per item to brand and costs from .03 cent per kiwi fruit, including handling. The machines can label up to 100 000 pieces per hour. *wowza*
Labour costs:Staff cost and handling time are significantly reduced.
Plastic-free:Composting just got a whole lot easier, no need to worry about accidental stickers ending up in your system.
Environmental footprint:Since the need for packaging and stickers is eliminated they avoid the resources, electricity, and transport involved with plastic or cardboard packaging manufacturing.One of their customers (a ginger farmer) was able to save 68,000kg of packaging material, which translated to roughly 310 tonnes of C02, or 2.5 million km's driven in an average car. How awesome is that?!
Permanent:Unlike a sticker, the laser etching cannot fall or be pulled off, which improves traceability rates along the supply chain.
Marketing:It's not all serious business, EcoMark machines can create festive patterns such as markings in pumpkins for Halloween, decorating oranges with Santas, or apples with the easter bunny! An innovative way to make fruit consumption fun.
What products are suitable?
The range of products that are suitable for the Natural Branding process is continuously growing. At this stage they can accept; ginger, sweet potato, cucumber, avocados, coconuts, pumpkins, apples, capsicum, kiwi fruit, limes, courgettes, pomegranates, garlic, mango, lemon, orange, and celery. Did you spot any of your faves in there?!
Other solutions to plastic stickers include paper stickers, certified compostable stickers, or ink stamps.
Share this blog to spread awareness and laser fruit tags might become a reality at your local grocer or market!