by Ron Fong/president and CEO, California Grocers Association
Across the nation—and especially in California—governments are becoming increasingly involved with the war on disposable plastics. Many have now experienced regulation on plastic bags, with a full ban in place in California. And, for some time now, local regulations on food packaging have been growing. California now is home to more than 120 local food-packaging ordinances.
The number of ordinances has steadily grown over the past years, with many restrictions simply focused on polystyrene foam, which grocers tend not to use outside the meat department. But things are changing, and drastically so.
China’s decision to restrict recycling intake and high-profile media articles and editorials mean all plastic types and uses are now heading for the chopping block.
Examples of stringent food packaging regulation are emerging across California and could become the next political trend. A focus on mandating compostable food packaging is popular, but many cities do not have the infrastructure to properly collect and compost the products.
While decision-makers are enamored with the thought of food packaging just melting away into dirt, none of them are making multi-million-dollar investments into creating the infrastructure. The result of compostable packaging not properly composting is just very expensive trash.
A few jurisdictions now are pushing their sphere of control by requiring that all raw meat, whether packed in-store or coming from outside the jurisdiction, be packaged in compostable or recyclable materials. No longer will grocers use the trusty polystyrene foam tray that not only works well but is affordable as well.
One California city has even floated the idea of requiring reusable packaging for ready-to-eat foods and charging a fee, paid by the consumer, for the use of disposable food packaging. What they really want is for consumers to bring their own food packaging for use—a health and safety nightmare.
All of this new attention to plastics and food packaging by the media, interest groups and elected officials must serve as fair warning. The old ways of thinking about food packaging are changing, and grocers need to see where they can adapt. What is incumbent on grocers is to help educate consumers and decision-makers that we cannot jeopardize food safety with food packaging.
This push-and-pull debate will rage on with or without grocers, which is why we need to take our seat at the table and be vocal about how far we can push environmental solutions without risking consumer illness.
Fong became President and CEO of CGA in March 2008. A native Californian and a lawyer, he joined CGA after 12 years with the California Credit Union League (CCUL). At CGA, Fong serves as the association’s chief legislative and political advocate and oversees government relations, member services, convention and communication programs. He also is president of the California Grocers Association Educational Foundation (CGAEF). His grandfather started Carmichael Supermarket, the first grocery market in Carmichael, California, in 1941, and Fong worked in the grocery business as he grew up.