Shame on you Whole Foods

I eat a lot of spinach.  So does my husband. During the spring, summer, and fall we’re able to grow some of what we consume but, in wintertime we purchase 100% of the spinach we eat. Fresh spinach gets consumed in our morning omelets and dinner salads so, it’s a staple on our grocery list. We often buy bunches of spinach but because we’re both busy (and I’m a bit lazy) I like to buy the loose leaf bulk option.

Our local grocery, Whole Foods in the Hollywood District of Portland, OR, offers such spinach in bulk amid the green beans and heads of lettuce. It also sells it in plastic: both boxes and bags. Being a bit on the frugal side (and that’s a good thing) Mr Mudlips recently returned from the grocery store and informed me how much moola we could save by buying the box instead of the bulk. Cool, I thought, we just saved about a buck a pound and that will certainly add up over time.

The next few days we emptied that box. Now it’s not so cool. It sits on the counter. I don’t know what to do with it.

I’ve become incredibly sensitive to throwing things away. A few years ago, we reduced our trash pick-up to once a month, but just last year, we reduced it further still and now just share a garbage pick-up with our fabulous neighbors. That means we think before something gets thrown away. Besides, it just seems incredibly wasteful to me, I can’t just throw it away.

Of course we recycle. But, knowing that not all plastics are equally recyclable; I check the symbol on the bottom of the box. Good news I think a# 1: easily recycled PETE plastic. But then I check the recycling guide produced by our local recycling agency; it includes these boxes on the list of things NOT to include in our recycling bin. So no recycling at the curb for this plastic misfit. Usually I also prefer to follow the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle adage.  In fact, I view it as a heirarchy and work to adhere to the order of that adage. We already blew the “reduce” step. But what can be done with this miserable box? It’s flimsy, unsuitable for much; reuse is not likely. Indeed it would have been best not to buy it in the first place. Yet, our limited budget drove the decision and that’s hard to dismiss. We could stop eating spinach. But, I do love it, so that’s not entirely realistic either.

So, the next time it was  my turn to shop. I decided to return to buying the more expensive bulk spinach. So much for pinching pennies. As I was loading my reusable produce bag, Produce Guy walked by, said hi, and asked if I had any questions. Boy did I.

“Why is the bulk spinach so much more expensive than the spinach in the box?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” said Produce Guy.

“With the cost of packaging, the plastic containers should be more expensive,” I posited. He agreed and theorized that some of the price difference might be due to agreements they have with farmers who sell them the packaged spinach. But, then he added that would not be the case in winter when they buy it from a different supplier.  He went on to tell me that many of the bulk items in the  store were more expensive than their plastic bound counterparts. It wasn’t just the spinach. I think we bonded in both of us finding that odd and interesting in a disturbing way.  We were both puzzled. Just then his supervisor walked by and he excused himself in order to see if he knew the answer to what was now OUR question. Soon he returned, but without an answer. Evidently, Produce Supervisor didn’t know either.

Who does know? What market conditions drive bulk items to be more expensive than the same item in a plastic box. Somewhere, somehow the true cost of the goods and packaging are not being paid. This disincentive to reduce waste is the kind of thing that just drives me crazy.

Feeling especially crazy I think, “I’m going to see what I can do about this.” Can we get the price of bulk spinach reduced to match the price of the spinach in the plastic containers? Really, can’t a company with the size and an environmental conscience (I checked out their mission statement -“Wise Environmental Practices:We respect our environment and recycle, reuse, and reduce our waste wherever and whenever we can.”) of Whole Foods do something to encourage waste reduction rather than encourage waste by simple pricing adjustment on these products?

So, I sent a letter to Whole Foods. After navigating their awkward online customer inquiry page, and honing my inquiry to 300 words or less, I pushed send and waited for an answer. A couple of days later I received a reply. The manager of the local store wrote to tell me where I could deposit the box for recycling. He also added that he had no dealings with the price aspect of my question (which is what I really was asking about). So, I wrote back to him, thanked him for the info on recycling but asked again, “Who can tell my why the bulk spinach is so much more expensive than the packaged spinach?”

It’s been three weeks and no answer. So, time to fire off another email. I’ve also decided to post this story. If you happen to read this and think it’s crazy that we are given price incentives to waste plastic and want to help me get an answer please share this story with others. When and if I get an answer I’ll update you on this site.

Thanks for reading.

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