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Ontario grower fixes the product we complain about the most: plastic-wrapped cucumbers

Dino DiLaudo stands next to a conveyor belt stacked with freshly grown cucumbers picked from leafy green vines that fall from the glass ceiling of a nearby greenhouse.

These cucumbers are about to undergo a treatment process that will remove millions of tons of single-use plastic from the supply chain.

“We’ve gone from one of the most criticized items in the produce aisle to a completely plastic-free cucumber,” said DiLaudo, vice president of sales and marketing at Westmoreland Topline Farms.

This week, the Leamington, Ontario grower will be the first in the country to ship English cucumbers that are not individually wrapped in plastic to produce sections across Canada.

Instead, they will be treated with an herbal spray developed by Apeel Sciences that is edible, tasteless, and extends a cucumber’s natural shelf life.

Natural herbal product

DiLaudo said the new treatment is sustainable and cost effective.

“The plastic is there to hold the breath of the cucumber, basically to retain its freshness and prevent it from oxidizing and spoiling prematurely,” he said.

“We remove the plastic and protect the cucumbers with a natural plant-based product.”

California-based Apeel Sciences has been working for nearly a decade on ways to reduce or eliminate plastic from the agricultural produce industry.

“We realized this issue of using plastic to help retain moisture and maintain the freshness of cucumbers,” said Ravi Jolly, vice president of new products at Apeel Science.

“We are giving the consumer an option, a more sustainable option.”

LOOK / Breakdown of cucumber processing process and amount of plastic used on cucumbers.

Here’s how much plastic is used to package cucumbers in Canada

Apeel Sciences Ravi Jolly explains the process of processing these cucumbers while showing the amount of plastic that can be used to protect the cucumbers.

Consumer-centric solution

These plastic-free cucumbers hit shelves the same week the federal government announced new details about its plan to ban certain single-use plastics over the next 18 months, including straws, take-out containers, bags groceries and cutlery.

A 2019 Deloitte study found that less than a tenth of the plastic waste produced by Canadians is recycled, which equates to 3.3 million tonnes of plastic thrown away each year, nearly half of which is plastic packaging. .

“Everyone wants to do their part when they talk about being [a] good steward of the environment,” DiLaudo said.

He said the overuse of plastic in seedless cucumbers was probably one of the industry’s biggest concerns.

Removing plastic from a load of cucumbers is equivalent to removing 100,000 plastic straws from the system, he added.

The Sierra Club Canada Foundation, a national nonprofit environmental group, called the move positive.

“Most of the time, you can’t avoid plastic,” said Lucy Bain, a coordinator who focuses on plastic, noting her personal disdain for the individually plastic-wrapped bananas found in grocery stores.

“Canadians want action on plastic. They don’t want to be surrounded by plastic, they don’t want to be forced to buy plastic products when they don’t have to, so it’s really great to see companies taking this initiative. “

She wants a bigger push at the government level to create industry standards that force companies to be less dependent on plastic.

“We need the government to put these standards in place so that we can be better consumers. It shouldn’t be up to us, in that sense.”

Ontario grower fixes the product we complain about the most: plastic-wrapped cucumbers
Dino DiLaudo, vice president of Westmoreland Topline Farms in Leamington, Ont., stands in front of a new production line that will help eliminate single-use plastic from cucumbers. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

DiLaudo said cucumbers were the first product to undergo this treatment on his farm and they were looking for ways to reduce plastic on other products.

“We have our mini seedless cucumbers, which I think are next on the list of things that could work really well,” he said.

“I think if there is no sacrifice on the quality of the cucumber, it will be a good thing for everyone.”