Exploring Alternatives to Plastic at the Co-op

Since opening in 2008, River Valley Co-op has implemented a variety of internal waste diversion programs, including comprehensive recycling and composting, Food Bank donations, and reuse of pallets and produce containers. We’ve also worked to provide store packaging that is either recyclable or compostable from the start. However, the shortage of markets for plastic recycling has caused us to seriously re-think the viability of consumer plastic recycling and make a shift further away from fossil fuel-based recyclable plastic packaging and to seek even more plant- and fiber-based packaging options. We set a goal to replace fossil fuel plastics in our in store packaging by the fall of 2019.


Assistant Operations Manager Juli Colón has taken the lead on our project to replace fossil fuel-based plastics. She reached out to RecyclingWorks in Massachusetts for assistance reviewing the co-op’s new procurement plan to reduce single-use plastic. After a site visit, RecyclingWorks staff provided a set of recommendations, including an overview of potential alternatives to plastic packaging. Earlier this year, the co-op started rolling out a series of changes. This included replacing petroleumbased packaging with compostable alternatives and increasing inventory of reusable produce bags and containers, which have seen an increase in sales after displaying them in high visibility locations.

We also hung educational signage to increase customer awareness of these changes and the co-op’s sustainability goals. We are encouraging customers to bring back plant based compostable containers to us for industrial composting if it is not available to them at home. A bin for this is outside at the front of the store. We’re very close to reaching our goal for replacing recyclable plastic packaging with some form of compostable packaging. It will be an ongoing process of replacing packaging with better products as the packaging industry catches up with our environmental needs.

Our society has spent the last 40 years expanding fossil fuel based single use plastics and now our oceans and environment are overflowing with plastic pollution. Now we must reverse the course and make changes as quickly as possible to eliminate plastic packaging. Our co-op is taking these first steps with packaging that we purchase for in store use and there will be more to come to improve on that as we move forward.



Reduced Waste Shopping Guide Reduced Waste (or “zero waste”) is the lifestyle choice of working to reduce trash in one's daily life. It addresses the system of how items are made, used, and disposed of. Reduced Waste shopping seeks to reduce the amount of trash in our landfills and incinerators by purchasing products that are less toxic, can be recycled, reused or composted, and that are made in a more sustainable manner.

Everyone’s Journey to a Reduced Waste Lifestyle is Different

  1. Establish why you would like to reduce the amount of waste that you or your family produces. Whatever your reason, use it to keep you focused and motivated!
  2. It’s important to be realistic and remember it’s not about buying all the Reduced Waste items you can. Reuse what you have as many times as possible, and as items break down, replace them with more sustainable choices. A Reduced Waste lifestyle may not be possible in every aspect of your life or household, and that’s okay!
  3. Choose what works for you. We all have different lifestyles and organizational styles. If something doesn’t feel right, or if you’re struggling with an aspect of this change, put it aside and revisit it later. The important thing is that you find a system that works for you and your household.
  4. It’s easy to feel like your everyday actions don’t make a difference, but they do. A Reduced Waste lifestyle isn’t about being perfect; it’s about being aware and making small changes that move us all toward a world with less waste.