FEATURE STORY: Helping Reduce Methane Emissions by Solving a Sticky Problem for U.S. Exporters

Image of PLC codes on various produce

Helping Reduce Methane Emissions by Solving a Sticky Problem for U.S. Produce Exporters

We see them every time we purchase fresh fruits and vegetables: price look up (PLU) labels. The little coin-size stickers are stuck to everything from apples, bananas, and cantaloupes to watermelons, yams, and zucchini.

According to the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, PLU labels have been used globally for more than 30 years with the International Federation for Produce Standards issuing more than 1,400 PLU codes.

PLU labels offer many benefits to the agriculture, trade, and retail industries. The labels lower costs and optimize handling by digitizing supply chain management, minimizing packaging, and reducing time at the point of purchase – something we can all appreciate when rushing through the self-checkout lane. When it comes to agricultural trade, PLU codes also help exporters and importers consistently and quickly identify and track products across the globe. Whether you purchase a Red Delicious apple in the United States, Mexico, or Vietnam, the PLU code is the same.

Unfortunately, PLU labels have also created a sticky situation for composters, the environment, and even U.S. exporters. Why? PLU labels are not biodegradable, which means they contaminate produce that’s tossed in the compost pile or sent to commercial composting facilities. As a result, the produce generally ends up in landfills, which creates more food waste, increases methane emissions, and negatively affects climate change.

Several countries, led by France and New Zealand, have enacted legislation that will require PLU labels to be certified home compostable. This has posed a challenge for U.S. exporters by creating a trade barrier that puts millions of dollars of U.S. fresh fruit and vegetable exports at risk. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has stepped in to help solve the problem in an effort to help reduce trade barriers and mitigate climate change.

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