Field Notes, Foodshed, Nonprofits

The Challenge of a Plastic-Free SHED

Inspired by the Plastic Free July movement, SHED is taking a closer look at how we use plastic. Plastic Free July is a non-profit whose goal is to eliminate single-use plastic. Their campaign aims to avoid landfill waste, reduce environmental impact, and protect the ocean. SHED faces challenges when it comes to reducing single-use plastic in our kitchens, store, and warehouse. SHED aims to promote a plastic-free lifestyle with our wares as well as through our operations. We have policies in place to reduce our impact, but we can always do more—or in this case, use less.

Plastic Alternatives at SHED

Reducing single-use plastic at SHED is important because we depend on a resilient local food system that is free from harmful pollutants and trash. Single-use plastic items such as cups, straws, cling wrap, and food containers are designed to be used once and then thrown out. Plastic is made from nonrenewable resources, and it does not break down after it is discarded. Part of SHED’s mission is to protect the environment by being good stewards of our local watershed and foodshed. We do this by prioritizing alternatives to single-use plastic and offering recycling and composting.

SHED promotes intentional lifestyles by selling thoughtful, durable reusable products. Our collection of plastic-free wares includes straightforward pieces that can easily be incorporated into your daily life. We also offer several incentives to our guests to opt for reusables. We offer a $0.50 discount for bringing your own reusable vessel to our coffee bar, a $1.00 return for any SHED labeled glass jar, a $0.50 return for our berry baskets.

Challenges of “Plastic-Free”

There are also challenges to going plastic-free at SHED. You will find plastic containers, cling wrap, and latex gloves in our kitchens. As a market and café, we are trying to find ways to ways to reduce this use of plastic without compromising on food safety and convenience for our guests. We are currently working with our vendors to develop plastic-free packaging options for our housewares and pantry goods. However, because we work with handcrafted pieces, fragile items are still often protected with bubble wrap.

Although we are proud of our recycling and compost programs, there is still room for improvement. Composting is a core tenet at SHED because it is the essence of a complete food cycle: food is grown in the soil and then returned to it. Our kitchens compost leftover food scraps which feed a hearty pile at HomeFarm (the farm and home of SHED co-owners Doug Lipton and Cindy Daniel).

We also offer compostable produce bags and compostable to-go cups in our store. However, compostable to-go ware is far from perfect. It’s almost always made from genetically modified commodity crops like field corn, the production of which undermines SHED’s core values. Compostable disposables are also widely misconstrued as a one-size-fits-all zero-waste solution. Here in Healdsburg we luckily can send them to an industrial composting center where they do eventually decompose, but many municipal composting programs cannot handle plant-based plastics, nor can they be broken down in a backyard compost pile. Many compostable to-go items, used with good intentions, end up contaminating waste streams or decomposing in greenhouse gas–producing landfills—that’s not what we want. Far and away the best option is to refuse single-use disposables whenever possible, and that’s what we encourage our guests to do.

We have recently begun an audit at SHED to get the full picture of our plastic usage. Before we can make well-informed changes to our daily operations, it is essential that we educate ourselves and our guests about how we use plastic. There will be more obstacles to overcome. We are looking forward to meeting these challenges with the same creativity and mindfulness that go into every aspect of SHED.

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  1. Valeria

    Good Job! Keep up the great work. I have more of a question vs. comment. Where do you send your compostable products?

    • Caroline

      Hi Valeria! Great question. Food waste and trimmings from our kitchen are sent to our farm, where they are turned into compost to grow more delicious food for SHED. Compostable to-go ware and other front-of-house waste is collected by our municipal waste company, Recology, to be composted.

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