We have instituted a new practice this year using box liners for most produce items that we harvest. These liners are specifically designed for banana boxes and the poly film is food grade quality. Although many people believe adding more plastic into the world in not sustainable, a cost benefit analysis reveals that proper packaging can greatly reduce food waste and improve the perishability of fresh fruits and vegetables (check out this study for more information).
The main intention of using the liners in our operations was to improve our food safety practices, but we have already witnessed multiple benefits throughout our supply chain from harvesting, inventory management and ultimately distribution improvements to recipient partners and agencies. Some obvious benefits of using box liners include the reduced risk of product contamination, ease of harvesting for volunteers, reduced perishability, and improved product presentation in the pantries.
We began using the liners in the beginning of July and so far all of our stakeholders have had nothing but good things to say about the liners. Volunteers have repeatedly mentioned that harvesting into lined boxes is easier and faster. Pantry managers say the gleaned product looks better and is easier to asses visually because the clear plastic allows them to see the product completely (as opposed to the old method of using white trash bags for greens). Harvesting crops like lettuce directly into the lined boxes allows for a standardized packing technique that improves efficiency in the field as well as significantly improves the quality of the product. Our largest distribution partner, the Greater Boston Food Bank, has commented on the improved quality and presentation which puts Boston Area Gleaners on par with wholesale suppliers.
All of these benefits amount to improved product quality and professionalism in our operations. But these benefits come at a cost; at our current purchasing volume each bag costs 24 cents. Last gleaning season we gleaned 5,532 boxes. However, we do not intend to use the liners in every situation; for example, certain crops with high respiration rates and non-edible wrappings (e.g. corn) would not require a bag liner. Either way, we believe the benefits of these liners far outweigh the costs.
Posted by Dylan Frazier, Gleaning Coordinator