A grocery store in Thailand has come up with an inventive way to cut down on plastic waste by packaging food items in banana leaves. A flexible piece of bamboo is used instead of a plastic-clad metal wire twist-tie.
The Rimping Supermarket in Chiangmai, Thailand, has substituted biodegradable plant leaves for single-use plastic wraps. A small amount of plastic is used for labeling but the ecological impact is still significant and worth adopting elsewhere.
This is one grocery store I would love to check out. According to the company’s website, Rimping “aspires to make everyday shopping a dignified and pleasurable experience, combining fair pricing and high standards of customer care with an enduring commitment to the welfare of the local community, and to the environment.”
Rimping operates six large supermarkets and two smaller grocery stores in Thailand. The chain has other ways to cut back on consumer waste. Shoppers who don’t bring their own sacks can check out a branded Rimping cloth bag for a modest refundable deposit.
The innovative Thai supermarket also stocks biodegradable bioplastic carrier bags. Reused cardboard boxes serve to pack groceries and cut down on both the company’s packaging expense and the industry’s need to manufacture new cardboard boxes.
But wait, there’s more: “a 50 Thai Baht ($1.57 USD) donation is made for every customer who does not take a bag; and Rimping only uses biodegradable containers for dining.”
Rimping’s solution to wasteful produce plastic wrap went viral recently after a local real estate company called Perfect Homes posted pix of cucumbers, lettuce, green beans, chili peppers, and other produce products in the market’s banana leaf packaging on Facebook. The company has a long history dating back to its founding in 1932.
Banana trees grow in tropical areas and can literally be picked for free. The large, thick leaves are flexible enough to fold. Some leaves measure up to 9 feet long!
In places where banana trees are few and far between, this solution might not save packaging costs but it certainly would help the planet’s ecology.
In any case, most locations have some type of biodegradable product available to replace plastic packaging materials and keep them out of the overflowing landfills and polluted waterways.
Using banana leaves to wrap food is not new. Mexican tamales are found in parts of that country, too. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of attending a Hawaiian pig roast, the swine is seasoned and wrapped in banana leaves before slow-roasting in a covered charcoal-lined pit.
In southeast Asia, the sturdy-yet-pliant leaves are a popular wrap for sticky rice. Finally, the Ho Chi Minh City branch of Lotte Mart in Vietnam started wrapping vegetables in banana leaves with plans to expand the eco-friendly technique to other foods and stores.
One downside to wrapping food products in biodegradable leaves is that their shelf life is limited. To prevent spoilage, stores are wrapping fast-selling fresh produce and items with a rapid turnover.
Vietnamese Lotte Mart uses other ecologically healthy alternatives to standard plastic packaging, including boxes manufactured from sugarcane waste. Fresh eggs are wrapped in paper rather than plastic. Another store, Big C, provides biodegradable shopping bags made from corn powder.
Banana leaf wraps are a great alternative to packaging products that come in plastic cartons or containers such as berries, mushrooms, and cherry tomatoes. They happen to be a discarded byproduct of the banana industry.
It has always mystified me why vegetables that were sold loose (without any packaging) in my youth are now smothered in plastic – to the point where you can’t even see the contents to check for freshness. Do we really need to seal up every head of red leaf lettuce and solitary cucumber?
Thanks to eco-activists around the world, many grocers are finding ways to slash plastic consumption for packaging. In the United States, Trader Joe’s is catering to its eco-conscious clientele by rolling out a number of initiatives that favor the environment without sacrificing food quality, including “eliminating plastic bags surrounding produce such as apples and potatoes; replacing Styrofoam trays in the meat section with recyclable PET1 trays; packaging greeting cards in a compostable sleeve instead of the current plastic ones; replacing the plastic bags that protect flower bouquets with something more eco-friendly, and getting rid of plastic and foil pouches surrounding tea bags.”
Trader Joe’s is a good example of how shoppers can influence a large corporation. Greenpeace collected more than 100,000 signatures on a petition that asked corporate leaders to change the store’s packaging. The company claims these new measures come from customer feedback and “our desire to be good neighbors.”
Hats off to all companies that prioritize customer satisfaction and Mother Earth along with profits and brand recognition. Let’s encourage them all to “go bananas” and “leaf” out packaging that doesn’t biodegrade.