Can you get the gro­ceries with­out the plas­tic? We find out Gro­ceries with­out the plas­tic? We find out

Herald on Sunday - - IN OTHER NEWS -

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.

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