Can we reduce plastic packaging and reduce food waste?
Plastic packaging has been in the news a lot lately. After Blue Planet II, many people have been concerned about the amount of single use plastic that is produced and subsequently thrown away. Currently a truckload of plastic enters our oceans each and every minute where it becomes a hazard for marine wildlife and it has been found in everything from seafood to drinking water to beer and sea salt.
UK supermarkets produce almost 1 million tonnes of plastic packaging each year. We think that they can dramatically reduce their plastic footprint. Many supermarkets argue that they have to use plastic packaging on fruit and vegetables to keep items fresher for longer and to keep them from being damaged during transport.
However a recent report from Friends of the Earth Europe and Zero Waste Europe concludes that an increase in plastic food packaging has not lead to a decrease in food waste. In fact, both food waste and plastic packaging have increased year on year. Although plastic packaging extends the shelf life of food, it doesn’t mean that we actually eat it before its sell by date. In fact, almost a quarter of food wasted in the UK is thrown away whilst still wrapped in its plastic packaging.
The report also says that plastic multi-packs force consumers to purchase more food than they need, which can lead to food waste – and these multi-packs create loads of food waste before they even make it to supermarket shelves! In order for fruit or veg to be packaged together, they have to pass very strict cosmetic standards. They need to be a certain size, be 100% blemish free, not oddly shaped and weigh roughly the same. Those that don’t pass the test, are discarded.
The report suggests some ways to reduce plastic packaging and food waste. Many fresh foods are wrapped in their own skin and can be safely transported and consumed without single use packaging especially if they are sourced locally. Multi-packs are unnecessary and instead all supermarkets should sell loose fruit and vegetables. Some packaging is used to label organic produce or to display its place of origin. But laser labelling is growing in popularity and has even been used by Marks and Spencers on avocados.
So it is fully possible for supermarkets to dramatically reduce their plastic footprint and fight food waste. Supermarkets need to realise that people are tired of excessive plastic packaging. Add your name to call on supermarkets to do more to end ocean plastics.
About Tisha Brown
I am a campaigner on the oceans team.