Little being done to tackle issue of plastic packaging in supermarkets

Foodstuffs sustainability manager Mike Sammons would not say why his New World stores did not charge for plastic bags ...
SUPPLIED

Foodstuffs sustainability manager Mike Sammons would not say why his New World stores did not charge for plastic bags while Pak 'n Save stores did.

Despite moves to make recycling easier, many Kiwi supermarkets are still struggling to reduce wasteful plastic from fresh produce.

According to the Packaging Council of New Zealand, Kiwis consume about 735 thousand tonnes of packaging every year but only recycle about 58 per cent of it.

This wasn't due to a lack of access to recycling facilities; 97 per cent of New Zealanders had access to facilities to recycle paper, glass, cans and plastic.

Apples at one Countdown store could be bought loose, in a plastic bag, in a plastic carton that was wrapped in plastic, ...
RACHEL CLAYTON/FAIRFAX NZ

Apples at one Countdown store could be bought loose, in a plastic bag, in a plastic carton that was wrapped in plastic, or in a plastic tube.

Foodstuffs sustainability manager Mike Sammons declined an interview, but answered questions about the company's continued use of fresh produce packaging via a statement.

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Sammons said Foodstuffs, which owned Pak 'n Save and New World supermarkets, had "moved away from this type of packaging [and] stores have been instructed to avoid needless packaging as it is not environmentally friendly and in most cases isn't required".

"In some cases packaging is essential to protect the produce from damage, as is the case with blueberries, raspberries and cherry tomatoes."

But a walk around the fresh produce aisles at New World on Willis St in Wellington found non-organic zucchinis in plastic trays, banana bunches wrapped in plastic and carrot bunches in plastic bags, or washed lettuce in plastic bags.

"The vast majority of packaging used in store is now recyclable for our customers either at kerbside or back at store in the soft plastics recycling bins," Sammons said.

Envirofert waste disposal manager Paul Yearbury said it was true that anything labelled compostable needed specific ...
SUPPLIED

Envirofert waste disposal manager Paul Yearbury said it was true that anything labelled compostable needed specific conditions to break down in.

Countdown spokesperson James Walker also declined an interview and answered questions about plastic packaging via a written statement.

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"Our organic fruit and vegetable products do currently have additional packaging so that it doesn't get mixed with non-organic produce. We are currently exploring other sustainable alternatives," he said.

Walker would not elaborate on what sustainable alternatives were being considered.

Receipts in a rubbish bin next to the self-service checkout at a New World store show how many people don't recycle ...
RACHEL CLAYTON/FAIRFAX NZ

Receipts in a rubbish bin next to the self-service checkout at a New World store show how many people don't recycle them. Recycle bins were a few metres away.

At Countdown in Newtown, Wellington non-organic apples came loose, in plastic bags, in plastic boxes that were wrapped in plastic, and in plastic tubes.

Non-organic zucchinis in pairs came on a plastic plate, wrapped in plastic.

Organic limes and feijoas came in compostable cardboard boxes that were wrapped in plastic. Lemons were loose and came in netted bags, grapes came in plastic boxes, capsicums and red onions were loose and came in plastic packs.

Although 97 per cent of Kiwis have access to recycling facilities, only 58 per cent use them.
ADRIAN MALLOCH/FAIRFAX NZ

Although 97 per cent of Kiwis have access to recycling facilities, only 58 per cent use them.

Envirofert waste disposal manager Paul Yearbury said he was often asked about compostable materials and supermarket packaging.

"There is a big difference between bio-degradable and true compostable packaging," he said.

Compostable material required specific conditions to breakdown - a compostable container could not be thrown into the back yard and breakdown properly.

Our Seas Our Future trustee Will Tait-Jamieson said: "... The use of plastic wrap in some supermarkets is excessive, such as packaging portions of fruit."

Although plastic wrap was an area of waste Tait-Jamieson wanted to tackle in the future, his organisation was primarily focused on plastic bag use.

"[Plastic bags] are a common item and are most salient to people when they think about plastic waste and their effect on our oceans and beaches," he said.

"Our Seas Our Future would like to see all supermarkets put a charge on plastic bags, especially when international literature suggests that a charge need only be minimal to encourage significant behaviour change."

Unnecessary receipt printing was an area Foodstuffs and Countdown both said they were thinking of changing.

Some Countdown stores offered receipts as a choice to customers, but not all.

Walker said in a statement that only shoppers who spent less than $20 were given the choice of a receipt - for purchases more than $20 a receipt would automatically print.

At Willis St New World, three different receipts would print for a transaction under $10: A tax receipt, a fuel voucher, and a competition voucher.

Sammons said in a statement that all receipts weren't an option and would print automatically.

"When these machines come up for replacement, we'll be able to look at other options that allow us to use less paper," he said.

 - Stuff

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