The Plastic Dilemma

By Wilma Finlay

It is great to know that so many of our customers love the WoolCool packaging that we use to send our cheese to your homes.  However this is often quickly followed by disappointment that our cheese is wrapped in plastic.

When you buy cheese at a cheese-monger it is usually wrapped in waxed paper.  Why can’t we do that?  Of course we can, but because the cheese is exposed to air in waxed paper, it simply won’t last as long.  Plastic vacuum bags make a big difference – our cheese will last for a few days in waxed paper without obvious degradation, but vacuum bags prolong that to a few weeks.  For our retail customers and our mail order customers this makes a big difference. 

Now I’m sure some of you are jumping up and down – ‘Cheese doesn’t go off, we just scrape the hard bits off!’.  Of course you can (at least with hard cheese), but the majority of people will put the cheese in the bin (hopefully compost bin) when there is the least sign of any food degrading.

Events are a great way to get a feel for what people prefer, particularly when you can chat with them and explain options.  In September we had a stand at the Go Organic Festival at Battersea Park, so we decided to give people that choice.  Half the cheese was wrapped in waxed paper and half in vacuum pack bags.  The vast majority of people wanted to buy the cheese in waxed paper, but when we pointed out the shelf life difference most opted to buy their cheese in a plastic vac bag.

We are about to launch The Ethical Dairy ice cream range. We will be using half litre tubs that are completely compostable instead of plastic tubs which are recyclable.  There is a downside however.  Our ice cream has a shelf-life of 18 months, but the compostable tubs only have a shelf life of 12 months.  So the packaging will not last as long as the product inside it!

Boy, do we wish there was a way to solve the conundrum of plastic versus shelf-life – it’s a challenge many people in the food industry face.  I recently listened to an organic veg box company talking about their journey in trying to get rid of plastic.  Sometimes, in the past, they’ve replaced plastic with something that they later find out is actually worse for global warming.  Sometimes customers ask them not to use any plastic at all even when the veg company believe it is necessary to protect certain produce.  Later they often notice that the customer never orders that vegetable again - because it didn’t look right when it arrived on the doorstep. 

The rush for alternatives to plastic is very definitely on and we are of exactly the same mind as many of our customers in trying to eradicate single use plastics from our life.  So when there is a compostable vacuum bag that isn’t worse for global warming, we will be jumping for joy.