Remove the “produce lookup sticker” or PLU sticker off your fruits and vegetables, especially bananas and avocados to sequester carbon and save the world, seriously though. 

PLU stickers are made of plastic materials that contaminate compost piles. The little stickers are super thin, making them nearly impossible to detect and catch in filter screens at commercial composting facilities. Since the PLU stickers are made of plastic, they don’t break down in a compost heap and are one of the worst contaminants in composting piles. 

So if they throw a monkey wrench to backyard and commercial composting facilities, then why are they on all our produce? 

Managed by the International Federation of Produce Standards (IFPS), PLU stickers are full of information for our Global Produce Supply Chain. PLU codes help identify where, what and the variety of the produce. For example, 

  • Organic produce has a 5 digit PLU number and begins with the number 9
  • Conventional produce has a 4 digit PLU number that begins with the number 4
  • Genetically modified (GMO) produce has a 5 digit PLU number that begins with the number 8
  • PLU stickers also indicate the country of origin which can be helpful, especially for those looking to reduce their food miles[1]

The problem we have with PLU stickers is the material being used, not the helpful identification code. Since the best end of life scenario for produce is composting, then any item placed on our produce should be designed for compostability. 

How beautiful would it be if all the PLU stickers were made of a compostable bioplastic, paper or laser printed into the produce? OR What if grocery stores completely reimagined PLU stickers and instead put IDs on the lots of produce received in boxes from different farmers, synced the produce delivery with the POS system, instead of adding individual stickers to each banana?

Until the material and system is changed and optimized, we recommend:

  1. Remove the stickers off ALL of your produce! (Remove the sticker, even if you don’t compost. Don’t forget the pesky stickers on your bananas and avocados!)
  2. Write to the International Federation of Produce Standards to:
    1. Encourage sticker-less coding innovation and technology 
    2. Demand all PLU stickers are printed on compostable materials vs. plastic
  3. Ask your local grocery store to innovate
  4. Shop at Farmers Markets whenever you can

Source: [1]IFPS Global