Can you get the groceries without the plastic? We find out Groceries without the plastic? We find out
Supermarkets may be phasing out single-use plastic bags, but plastic still litters the aisles.
The Herald on Sunday visited New Zealand’s three biggest supermarkets with a shopping list of 16 kitchen staples or household items.
Our mission: Can you shop without buying single-use plastic or any plastic at all? Would the supermarkets let us use our own containers, jars and reusable bags?
The list avoided items where a plastic-free alternative was available. For example, instead of frozen vegetables, we opted for fresh, loose veges.
We searched for cardboard and paper alternatives which take only a couple of months to break down in soil, while plastic can take more than 100 years.
From the 16 items, we were able to purchase eight plastic-free from the three stores: Pak’nSave Royal Oak, Countdown Greenlane and New World Remuera.
Three items — a kilogram of cheese, two litres of milk and a packet of unflavoured crackers — could not be purchased without plastic.
For tampons, it was easy to find packets in cardboard rather than plastic, but inside the box, they were individually wrapped in plastic. However, two — at Countdown and New World — were wrapped in bioplastic, which is made from plant starches and takes just three to six months to break down.
Bamboo toothbrushes were available at all of the supermarkets, but New World’s option was covered in plastic wrapping.
Vegetables, lettuce and fruit were easy to buy without packaging.
However at Countdown, the only bananas available had a plastic label on them.
Meat could be requested directly from the butcher as long as we took the cut of meat available on any given week. The butchers at all three stores wrapped the meat in paper, as
did the deli staff with ham.
And the checkout staff at all supermarkets were happy to accommodate when we put bulk food items such as chocolate and pasta in our own containers.
To avoid creating more waste in the form of stickers on the containers to write the bulk food bin number, we put the numbers in our phone and told the checkout operator.
New Zealand’s waste is shipped to many countries but stockpiles of plastic are appearing around the country after China last year banned imports of contaminated plastic waste.
A spokeswoman for Foodstuffs NZ, the parent company of New World and Pak’nSave, said some products, like the crackers on our shopping list, didn’t stay fresh without plastic but there were options available.
“Let’s be honest, nobody wants a soft cracker,” said spokeswoman Antoinette Laird.
“If you don’t want to take the plastic packaging home, our suggestion is leave it in our soft plastic recycling bins which are readily available in all of our stores.”
Suppliers were constantly reviewing and updating packaging in direct response to consumer sentiment, she said.
There were alternatives to plastic 2-litre milk bottles, she said, such as buying two 1 litre cartons. Some stores stocked bottles.
Cheese wrapped in plastic could be avoided by visiting the store’s deli, said Laird, but the branch the Herald on Sunday visited didn’t have any.
Foodstuffs had a host of plastic reduction initiatives under way, including trialling BYO containers at New World Howick, which was due to extend to more stores shortly, Laird said. The store’s produce departments were also due for an upgrade that would do away with plastic for fruit and vegetables.
Called Project Naked, produce departments that were being upgraded or in newly-built stores would have special misting systems to keep fruit and veg fresh and in “top notch” condition without plastic.
A Countdown spokeswoman said the company was committed to removing and reducing unnecessary plastic, but plastic was still the preferred and often most convenient packaging option for certain products for food safety, transportation and freshness.
“Over the past year we have removed 70 tonnes of unnecessary packaging from our produce section, including removing plastic packaging from bananas — this alone removed 15.8 tonnes of plastic.
“The produce section is an area of focus for us with more changes planned.”
In June this year, Countdown, Pak’nSave and New World joined a New Zealand industry pledge towards using 100 per cent reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging in NZ brands by 2025 or earlier.
Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage said alternatives to packaging food in single-use plastic were on the increase.
“People can use their purchasing power to make it clear they want to reduce waste.”
The Government was working with the industry to ensure products were designed to be reused, or recovered and made into something new.
“This supports making the shift to a circular economy where waste is designed out of the system and we don’t waste resources by sending them to landfill or polluting the environment,” said Sage.
As much as 91 per cent of plastic is not recycled and 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic now exists.
Of that, just 9 per cent is actually recyclable.