Sticky Situation: FAS says PLU labels negatively affect environment

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Scientists at the USDA Western Regional Research Center in Albany, Calif. apply test PLU labels to grapefruits to find bio-based adhesives that passed the home-compostable degradation test. (Photo by James McManus)

They are stuck on nearly every produce item in your local grocery store. Those dime-sized stickers are called price look up labels, or PLU labels for short. Now, USDA’S Foreign Ag Service says they may be negatively affecting climate change.

That is why FAS and USDA’s Agricultural Research Service are working to produce compostable PLU labels. It is a collaboration with the International Fresh Produce Association and Sinclair Systems International to bring the labels up to EU standards.

PLU labels have been used globally for more than 30 years, according to the Sustainable Packaging Coalition. FAS says they offer many benefits to agriculture, including digitizing the supply chain and reducing time in the self-checkout line.

PLU codes also help exporters and importers quickly identify and track products around the globe. But according to FAS, they have created a sticky situation. Several countries, led by France and New Zealand, now require them to be biodegradable. These countries claim they contaminate produce that is tossed in the compost pile and often end up in landfills, creating more food waste and increasing methane emissions.

The goal of the research teams is to develop adhesives that are food-safe and compostable. To date, they have tested more than 100 formulas to determine the top three adhesives. The team is performing final tests to confirm that the adhesives pass the home-compostable degradation test. They will then tackle scale-up adhesive coating trials as a key milestone toward commercialization.

You can read the FAS news release here.

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