Green Dream Weavers: Let's Consume Sustainably

Alisa Shargorodsky, Weavers Way Zero-Waste Consultant

UNFI Pallet Wrap Petition

We’re asking the National Cooperative Grocers to make this petition available to other food co-ops that would like to see natural foods shipper UNFI switch from disposable plastic to reusable pallet wraps. Visit and sign!

For the past six months I have written a monthly article focusing on the Co-op’s movements toward a more holistic zero-waste system. What I am finding is that there are many Weavers Way members interested in sustainability. I have heard from you personally, and I thank you for your personal commitments to this. It is an indicator of the collective desire to move in the direction of new models that favor progressive ecological action. 

Every day, we purchase goods necessary for our lives and ideally, the Co-op would be a place that favors products that support more sustainable consumption. Still, many of these products come in single-use packaging. When our loyal members use these products, what happens to the wrappers? Who is processing the materials that are supposedly recyclable? These are all the things we are starting to think about more and more internally at Weavers Way.

In the past several decades, our recycling has been separated from our rubbish, and most municipalities around the country have introduced single-stream recycling so we aren’t even sorting our recycling ourselves. Our waste predominantly is incinerated and landfilled. Though we think waste-to-energy systems are good, they result in a huge amount of resource loss and unintended contamination of soil, air and water. Landfilling is equally toxic, generating emissions of methane into the air and other toxic leachates into leachate pools that need chemicals to neutralize. Plus, landfills are running out of room. In both systems, waste generally has to travel long distances to reach its end of life, using non-renewable resources in the transport process. 

Our recycling also is plagued with unintended problems. Many materials in the marketplace are not even recyclable because they have not been designed to maximize recyclability and we lack the infrastructure globally to handle the sheer amount of these materials. To make matters worse, our systems for processing these materials are collapsing, with mass recycling processors like China no longer accepting materials from other countries. 

When a recyclable item is put out on the curb and transported to a materials recovery facility, it goes on a giant conveyor belt where workers pull off “contaminants” — materials that don’t belong. A few larger MRFs have optical processors that can sort up to 80 products per minute, whereas a person can sort only about 30 per minute. There are not many of these types of MRFs, though. And even with the most sophisticated sorting systems, contamination still occurs. China has refused to take our bales unless we can have less than 3% contamination, which is virtually impossible with the systems we have in place. 

It is a perfect storm of lack of public education, producers that are not cognizant of optimizing recyclability and a breakdown in materials processing. 

So what are we looking at now? The Co-op must nurture a stronger culture of sustainability, source reduction and conscious consumerism. We must harness the power of the collective to indicate a willingness to move in a new direction. What will it require from our leadership and our members, and how will we remain competitive in our market in the face of this problem?

We are moving forward with establishing better forms of communication within all of our stores regarding waste systems and finding innovative ways to encourage our shoppers to BYOC — Bring Your Own Containers. 

Examples include:

  • Bring your own coffee cups and your own containers for deli items and prepared food in Chestnut Hill.
  • Skip the plastic roll bags. Consider reusing the ones you have or skip the bagging process all together — our cashiers are prepared to weigh your produce loose.
  • Bring a your own non-disposable bags for bulk. We also sell cloth bulk bags in all three stores. Eventually, we hope to implement a point system that would give rewards to shoppers who buy in bulk.

Keep an eye peeled for our new signage about packaging reduction and proper disposal. We will be making those systems more clearly indicated. Thank you for your patience and cooperation during this process!

Meanwhile, we have 274 signatures on our petition to get the National Cooperative Grocers to support the use of reusable pallet wrap. We need to get to 1,000, and with and more than 9,000 member households, we can do so. Thank you for your sustained efforts.