If you're an environmentalist, you're probably irked by the sight of apples wrapped in plastic in places like the Lair. Before I did my research, I was just the same.
Plastic pollution has become a real problem in the modern world, building up in seabirds and clogging up our oceans, so seeing dozens of fruits that maybe shouldn't be wrapped in single-use plastics is certainly frustrating.
It's certainly foreign to me why someone would plastic-wrap their apples. At home, I put them in a fruit bowl or a drawer in the fridge, and unless you buy the huge plastic bags of apples, they aren't packaged that way when you pick them from the pile. Admittedly, you do put individual apples into a bag for weighing purposes, but that's different from packaging them out the gate.
Even if it were a social norm to wrap your apples, plastic wrap itself is not a versatile product. It's not recyclable, and PVC and PVdC, two plastics that make up plastic wrap, are linked to health and environmental concerns. Polyethylene, an alternative plastic to PVC or PVdC, has been found to release methane, a greenhouse gas, when exposed to solar radiation i.e. when left out in a landfill on a sunny day.
So why do it? It's because it helps prevent another kind of pollution: food waste.
150,000 tons of food are thrown out by American households a day, and people that eat fruits and vegetables waste more, not less, according to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank. Like polyethylene, food also releases methane gas when rotting in a landfill, which accounts for 4.4 gigatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year, as estimated by the World Resources Institute.
Freakonomics reported in 2010 on a study that showed shrink-wrapped apples cut down discarding apples by 27 %. Another study in 2017 found that wrap extended the shelf-life of apples by at least two weeks. Simply put, apples in plastic wrap last longer and are less likely to be thrown out earlier because of spoilage. It becomes more likely someone will eventually buy an apple before it's too late.
It's such a shame then, that LMU doesn't make the benefits of plastic-wrapped apples more transparent, instead of giving the dry, legal explanation for why this strange food storage practice is in place.
Officially, the Lair uses little signs around the apple baskets that recite an edict from the California Retail Food Code, which, in Article 7. Food Display and Service, states, "food on display shall be protected from contamination by the use of packaging, counter, service line, or sneeze guards that intercept a direct line between the consumer's mouth and the food being displayed."
This to me made no sense at first glance. Why not just use something like a sneeze guard or plastic container to hold apples in? It'd be a plastic you could use over and over again for multiple purposes.
Ultimately, the answer to that question is simple: cost. Plastic wrap costs way less than a sneeze guard and would probably use less energy during production. It's the same problem with cotton tote bags; you'd need to use it a ridiculous number of times before you have an impact.
Still, these signs in the Lair could go a bit more in-depth beyond simply repeating the law. Food waste is a social justice issue I'm certain many students would be happy to help fight.
But instead of answering any questions or sparking a discussion, students like me are going to come away from these signs with presumptions rather than knowledge.
However, that knowledge still doesn't address the aforementioned problems that do come from plastic wrap. It's still a pollutant, it's still single-use and using too much of it will have an adverse effect on our planet.
The solution, then, is to limit plastic use as much as possible while still being environmentally healthy. Reusing plastic bags when grocery shopping and buying fruits with minimal packaging are both steps you can take to curb your individual impact.
While we should always pursue a greener and more prosperous Earth for ourselves and for the future life is also a series of trade-offs. If we invest in worthwhile causes, we can afford to have plastic-wrapped apples.
This is the opinion of Cristobal Spielmann, a sophomore environmental science major from Brentwood, Tennessee. Tweet comments @LALoyolan or email firstname.lastname@example.org.