Those little stickers are actually a huge headache.
Every now and then, a news story pops up of public outrage over unnecessary produce packaging. For example, just a couple weeks ago, Woolworths in Australia was slammed for selling bananas in plastic wrap. Instead of using plastic wrap to cover and label produce, most stores tend to identify fruits and vegetables with tiny PLU, or “produce look up,” stickers. But even though those stickers create far less waste, they have their own environmental issue: PLU stickers aren’t biodegradable, so they can cause a headache at composting facilities if consumers neglect to remove them from peels.
The potential pitfalls of PLU stickers were reinforced recently when the city of Calgary’s official Twitter account sent out a public reminder. “Fruit and vegetable stickers are NOT compostable!” the Canadian city tweeted. “Remember to take them off before composting your fruit peels, rinds, and vegetable peelings in the green cart.”
As CBC News explains, for health reasons, the stickers are required to not be harmful for human consumption, but they aren’t required to be biodegradable. As a result, composting facilities screen for non-compostable materials, and PLU stickers have been specifically called out as a problem. “They are a total nightmare,” Jay Fischer, owner of Ag Choice, a company that handles composting, said in a 2015 interview with Dirt. “No matter what you do, what type of screen you run, equipment you have, they’re almost impossible to get out.”
A Calgary spokesperson was less dire, telling CBC that the limited number of stickers that make it through screening don’t really affect the final product. Still, the larger takeaway is that the most helpful and environmentally friendly approach to PLU stickers is to always remove them from peels—even the ones you don’t eat on items like avocados and bananas—and throw them away, separate from any compost.