The over-packaged banana

For reasons of self-preservation, I don’t get angry with the content of most news reports. I generally accept that, despite best intentions and the presence of good in this world, there will always be greed, evil, and just plain stupidity.

But sometimes it happens. Last night Jon Stewart showcased Del Monte’s new plastic-wrapped banana in the introduction to his show. Watch this, if you haven’t yet; it will take a half a minute or so to load but it’s just over two minutes long:

Seriously? Bananas in plastic bags? Greed, evil, or just plain stupidity? None of the above, according to Fresh Del Monte, touting it as green measure designed to cut down on the number of overripe bananas tossed into the landfill and pointing out that the plastic bag is compostable.

But this comes at time when the world seems to be – hopefully? – focusing more on sustainability and recycling and the tremendous mess humans have made on the Earth. So the idea made me mad. I recently read Elizabeth Royte’s book Garbageland, and she calls her chapter on plastic “Satan’s Resin” because of its toxicity not just in manufacture but also in recycling. There’s the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and concern over ocean health, which directly correlates to human health. And what about compostable plastics, often made from corn starch grown on factory farms with fertilizers and pesticides that runoff into streams and rivers and eventually create “dead zones” in the water? I walk on the beach and generally pick up a couple dozen plastic bits from the high tide line, tangled up with kelp fronds and sea lettuces. I’ve started saving cream cheese containers and pickle jars to stick leftovers in instead of plastic baggies. I thought we were moving toward less plastic in the world, not more. What’s going on here?

Luckily I found this thoughtful piece on the over-packaged banana issue written by Adam Werback, Chief Sustainability Officer for Saatchi & Saatchi and author of Strategy for Sustainability: A Business Manifesto. Werbach points out that a plastic-wrapped banana is a challenge to the belief system of environmentalists as well as a symbol of “nature versus the machine,” but getting mad about it is getting mad about the wrong thing. He argues that the bigger challenge is facing a paradigm shift, moving away from categorizations of natural (good) vs. non-natural (bad) and instead working toward solving the bigger puzzle of how human society can successfully sustain into the future. He ends with this point:

Commenting on the plastic bag around a banana is like being angry that a Hummer has leather seats or proud that Charlie Sheen is a vegetarian. You’re missing the main event and focusing on the details. Better that you teach your kids to eat root vegetables in the winter, or that you celebrate that urban moms can buy over-packaged fruit at a gas station instead of over-packaged candy. – Adam Werbach, The No-Good, Very Bad, Overwrapped Banana.

Nicely said, and excellent food for thought.

I still won’t be buying any plastic-wrapped bananas and will probably stay away from any Fresh Del Monte products, if I don’t already. But I like that I don’t have to be angry to make a difference. I may not have any answers but the children I can influence might – making my behavior more powerful than a marketing team with a truck of plastic-wrapped bananas any day.

2 Comments

  1. Well-put, Maggie. I hope you are still linking in the bloggers’ group on SW– perhaps you should start a group for environmental writers on the site– it’s so big, and a great platform, although I’m doing just fine without it at this point. You are a terrific focused, clear, engaging, thought-provoking writer and I’m with you; it’s behavior that models itself to the next generation. I still think indulging in a fit of pique over plastic– a brief one– is o.k., though– all best– Jenne’

    Reply
  2. Thanks Jenne’, for all your praise. I have thought about an environmental writers group – environmental communications is a huge interest of mine – but it seems there’s never enough time. It’s important enough to do though, hmm?

    Reply

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