GM Jon Roesser hosted one of his member forums last month. The topic was waste reduction at the Co-op, and the Mt. Airy Community Room was packed on an icy night. Said Jon: “I don’t think we’ve ever had this many people.”
The conversation quickly zeroed in on plastic. Weavers Way, like all retail food businesses, goes through a lot of it. Bulk bags and buckets. Takeout containers. Shrink wrap. Green produce bags. It’s not just shopper convenience — plastic plays a huge part in the food-distribution system that Weavers Way is part of, and disengaging is harder than just not taking a produce bag.
Although, really, what’s with the produce bags? Norman estimates we give out more than 333,000 a year.
There were lots of suggestions. One of them was to start charging again for said produce bags. And another was for people to bring their own reusable containers, and not just for bulk items, but for deli and prepared foods, too. And this is where a funny thing happened: Neither Norman nor Weavers Way Zero Waste Consultant Alisa Shargorodsky was sure we’re ALLOWED to dispense prepared foods into customers’ own containers.
So I did the reading (because that’s who I am), and it turns out it IS illegal — in other places, including Portland, OR. (Don’t start.) There’s nothing in the Philadelphia or Montgomery County health codes — which lean heavily on the state’s food-safety regulations, which in the area of retail food sales are cribbed entirely from the FDA — nothing that forbids us from dishing chicken salad into your dish.
So think about bringing your own container. But first, think about this:
Only clean containers, please. What if you got sick on our food because YOUR container wasn’t power-washed to food-safety perfection? What if others did because our serving utensil got contaminated by your icky jar? (We know no Weavers Way shopper would ever blame the Co-op, but you can see why some take-out operations ban outside containers.)
Show you care — please tare. If you don’t know the weight of your empty container, we’re going to have to charge you for the contents and the container. Maybe that will help you remember to weigh your growler the next time you hit the kombucha tap? Also, don’t get mad at the cashiers.
(And if you forget your container and Caitlyn in Mt. Airy or Sierra in Ambler just happens to have a jar or two under the sink? I don’t want to know.)
Of course, we’re such a long way from Zero Waste that every bit helps and every bit makes no difference at all. Alisa, who knows a lot about this, is writing a series about ways we as a co-op can move the sustainability needle systemwide. Read the first one in this issue — reusable pallet wraps, who knew? — and sign the petition to National Co-op Grocers.