When it comes to packaging, Trader Joe’s can do better.

As much as I love the product variety at Trader Joe's, I hate the packaging waste.

Trader joes Everything – apart from a few bananas – comes wrapped in excessive plastic or paper. What gives? On a recent shopping trip there, all the fresh produce seemed to be hermetically sealed: one barrel was full of pairs of zucchini trapped on small polystyrene trays bundled in plastic. Another featured pairs of apples similarly presented. Elsewhere, the store was selling oversized boxes of organic tea bags – the tea bag was the same size, but it was encased in a large cellophane wrapper, then packed in a box that seemed to be 30% bigger than the standard size. Is that ok because the tea is organic?

Trader Joe's offers a good selection of organic milk, eggs and butter. Its cleaning products minimize dangerous chemicals. And it sells many of these choices at reasonable prices. But the company does itself and its customers a disservice, especially in these lean and green times, by not reducing the packaging used to sell its products.

Maybe next time I'm there, I'll just unwrap all the overpacked goods and leave the waste at the cash register.

Thumb_brown.bmpThumbs down, Trader Joe's.  

17 Responses to When it comes to packaging, Trader Joe’s can do better.

  1. Jason C January 13, 2009 at 8:15 am #

    Interesting take. We were at the TJs in Glen Ellyn on Sunday morning in the frozen food section. What we noticed was that certain seafood items (like crab cakes) were packaged very minimally – just a plastic sheet laminated together and sold that way. No box, etc.
    I agree with your comments, though. I hate that red peppers are shrink wrapped. There is probably give-and-take all of the place in the grocery world. Since TJs private labels everything, do they package themself or does the company they’re purchasing from make those decisions? (i.e. Annies or Numi Tea)

  2. Diane MacEachern January 14, 2009 at 6:43 am #

    I don’t know the answer to your questions. But I look to Wal-Mart for an example of what a company can do to transform its supply chain. I gave the sermon at a church on Sunday, and afterwards, unprompted by me, someone came up to me and complained about all the packaging waste at Trader Joe’s! They can do better, and as shoppers, we should remind them of that every time we spend money there. Thanks for writing.

  3. Micaela January 14, 2009 at 11:06 am #

    I’m so with you on the packaging waste at Trader Joe’s. It irks me every time I shop there and I would probably go there more if it weren’t for the packaging. That said, I have seen some improvements. At my local TJ’s they do sell some fruit (apples, oranges) in bulk instead of packaged. I’d like to see it all that way. And I’d like to see a dry goods bulk section too. Let’s hope they’re listening! 🙂

  4. Erin Peters January 14, 2009 at 5:19 pm #

    Overpackaging of otherwise good products is one of my biggest pet peeves, and it’s not just at Trader Joe’s. For example, why do organic bananas always come wrapped in plastic? Surely there’s a better way to differentiate the organic bananas from the non-organic!

  5. Luke January 21, 2009 at 6:12 pm #

    Great topic, Diane. We just had this conversation with friends over the weekend. Seems many people have asked themselves this very question.

  6. Linda N. February 1, 2009 at 8:46 pm #

    Actually TJ’s uses eco-friendly packaging made from NatureWorks PLA (polylactic acid)for some of their packaging. PLA is derived from 100% annually renewable resources and it’s production requires 68% less fossil fuel resources than the traditional oil-based materials; and with the purchase of wind power-based Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) uses 90% fewer greenhouse gases (GHG). It is also compostable and breaks down into a nutrient for the soil. I am not an employee of either company but I have developed a 100% Natural and Renewable baby wipe from NatureWorks PLA so I was very happy to see TJ’s use it also for packaging.

  7. Diane MacEachern February 2, 2009 at 5:51 am #

    Is ALL their packaging made from PLA?
    Even so, the first goal should be to limit any packaging. My biggest objection is in the “fresh” produce section – I’d prefer to see more loose fruits and vegetables.
    Thanks so much for writing, and good luck with your new business venture.

  8. Is it Easy Being Green February 9, 2009 at 8:18 am #

    I’m a huge fan of Trader Joe’s and shop there weekly. But, I’ve been complaining for years about their packaging and I refuse to buy any of their products that come in excessive packaging. The packaging is my only issue with TJ’s; otherwise it’s a wonderful source for affordable organic and healthy food (and wine!). They use PLA for only a small amount of their packaging and that’s a good move, but less (or recyclable even) packaging would be better. I was excited when they started selling loose apples, so maybe they will continue that trend.

  9. Mandy May 28, 2009 at 5:34 pm #

    Thanks Diane, I’m glad to see someone else is noticing this. I wrote about the same thing this month:
    While I agree that folks are shopping for a bargain, I don’t think it’s a bargain when I buy two bell peppers that are shrink wrapped, only to find out that they’re moldy/bruised badly on the side I couldn’t see. That’s a waste.

  10. Cheryl June 19, 2009 at 4:18 pm #

    Right on Diane. I was just talking about this today. And I was bothered by it. I like Trader Joe’s and its products. But my God. I love artichokes and I saw a package containing 15-20 of them. Cute and tasty ones. I normally won’t buy, but decided that I would keep and reuse the container to pick strawberries/berries/etc. from the garden. But I can’t do this continuously. I am trying to grow my own plants. I said to my husband today. Why is there so much packaging at Trader Joe’s? He was saying perhaps it was the shipping from other countries. I said that even Fred Meyer’s doesn’t package produce in this way. What, is Fred Meyer’s not getting produce that is shipped from around the country and/or other countries. I am so glad to see someone else bothered. And also I might leave it there at the next visit. I have to take it to the local plastic recycling place, wasting gas and time. Plus, I have to store it for months to not make several trips, which would increase my environmental footprint. I am not saying Freddy’s is perfect, but they do unpack, break down or hand out their boxes to the public. I think we all need to work on it. I am for regulation of this. I am willing to work harder, but I think companies should be forced to minimize packaging especially when it can’t be recycled. Part of being green is reducing the amount of packaging/waste your bring home. So you provided food for thought. Now we have to get it through to the company and other companies. As consumers, we have to do it–I think. I don’t think although I wish the government would help. And I am a “liberal.” I loved this article. Made my day. I know I am not alone in annoyance.

  11. Cheryl June 19, 2009 at 4:49 pm #

    I didn’t look like my post got there on PLAs. The link above is informative.

  12. Diane MacEachern June 20, 2009 at 9:52 am #

    Thanks for writing, Cheryl. I talk to the manager at my Trader Joe’s every time I shop there. If enough of us do it, they’ll get the message.

  13. JoAnn Hines April 5, 2012 at 11:06 am #

    I agree with the premise that retailers can do a better job eliminating excess packaging. It’s an issue of concern to all of us.
    But lets not forget that packaging protects the produce keeping it in the condition that you want to buy it. Stores already throw away 20% of produce that no one will buy.
    If you want produce in the stores that looks good enough to eat then packaging does have a role to play. It not only protects the products but it keeps it sanitary and safe for consumption.
    Leaving the packaging at the store is not a solution either. The costs of disposal or recycling just get added back to the cost of the product. That’s one thing no one ever considers if products are unsellable someone pays the price which is ultimately the consumer.
    It’s an problem the packaging companies are trying to address weighing the safety and security of products against the consumers desire for less packaging.

  14. lainy o'leary September 25, 2017 at 3:13 pm #

    Today for the first time, I saw that half gallon organic milk at Trader Joe’s is now only available in plastic cartons. NOT cool! I asked the store manager about it and he said that the company that they use now only uses plastic. Prior to this, the milk came in a non-plastic container. Going backward rather than forward. No good explanation. No, I have never posted a comment here before.

    • Diane October 3, 2017 at 6:08 pm #

      Thanks. Trader Joe’s offers some great bargains, but they’re not that responsible when it comes to packaging. I almost never shop there anymore. FYI, I buy milk in glass bottles at my food coop and at Whole Foods here in suburban D.C. You might be able to find a local dairy that delivers milk in glass bottles.

  15. Janis January 16, 2018 at 4:38 pm #

    This is an old article, so I’m not sure if anyone will see my post or not. That said, I absolutely agree on the packaging of produce! I have only been to Trader Joe’s one time and that was when I went out of town to attend a wedding reception and we had a little time to kill, so we went into a nearby T.J.’s and I fell in love with it (there aren’t any stores even reasonably close to me)! EXCEPT for the produce packaging. I’m committed to reducing/eliminating things like plastic and that awful Styrofoam from my life and I was so disappointed to see all the produce pre-packaged on Styrofoam trays and wrapped in plastic. I’m hoping to find some way to shop at Trader Joe’s occasionally, but I will NOT buy their produce. At least not as long as they sell it pre-packaged (I will always prefer to use my own reusable mesh bags for produce purchases anyway). I even bought one of their wonderful hemp reusable grocery bags while I was there. It just doesn’t make any sense that they are so clueless when it comes to their produce packaging.

    • Diane January 25, 2018 at 9:26 am #

      I completely agree. We should band together to raise awareness about them. I do talk to the store manager where I shop, but it’s sort of out of his hands, as everything comes from a main distributor. Thanks for being so committed to using less plastic. We need more people like you on this planet!!

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