Hands up if you’re guilty of occasionally forgetting to peel the stickers off of some of the leftover produce you throw into the compost bin. Think lemon rinds, banana, and avocado peels. It happens, but we all need to be making stronger efforts to make sure it doesn’t.
It’s A Big Problem
Food waste is biodegradable, but those little stickers aren’t. They don’t break down during the composting process.
In a recent CBC News report, Susan Antler of the Compost Council of Canada recalls watching as a truckload carrying thousands of rotting avocadoes was turned away from a compost center in British Columbia.
Almost all of the decomposing fruit still had product look-up (PLU) stickers on it. As a result, Antler says the load ended up in a landfill.
While there is a screening process at many compost facilities, many stickers still end up in the mix and finished product.
A finished product with plastic labels in it is no good for the soil, defeating the purpose of composting in the first place. Hence, the reason why the truck full of avocadoes was turned away.
As many of us already know, food waste that decomposes in garbage dumps releases methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas.
The reason methane isn’t released in a compost heap is that the food decomposes in the presence of oxygen.
So, in many cases, the stickers are contributing to climate change.
What’s The Point Of Those Stickers?
The PLU stickers first made their appearance on fruits and vegetables in the mid-1980s. Each label features a numeric code to let cashiers know how much the item costs.
The codes on the products are global; grocery chains everywhere use the same numbers. A four-digit code means the produce was grown conventionally. Five digits indicate it’s organic.
There are other options out there, including these compostable produce stickers.
My favorite alternative is an edible tattoo that is placed on the skin of fruits and vegetables using a laser. We wrote about this technology here.
There are also other options made out of paper.
Unfortunately, these aren’t the norm. For now, we all have to do our part at home by making sure the leftovers that go into the compost bins are sticker-free.