Ou­trage grows over plas­tic wrap­ping

Con­sumers are find­ing it hard to be en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly at the su­per­mar­ket bak­ery counter, writes Cather­ine Har­ris.

The Press - - Business -

With plas­tic bags gone from most su­per­mar­kets and banned from the mid­dle of the year, con­sumer at­ten­tion is in­creas­ingly turn­ing to plas­tic food wrap­pings and con­tain­ers.

A Twit­ter storm blew up over the week­end af­ter Thom Adams tweeted a pic­ture of plas­ticwrapped bak­ery items in­side a cab­i­net at a Porirua New World.

Adams said it was ironic that New World had re­moved plas­tic bags when so much of one of its bak­eries was in­di­vid­u­ally wrapped or en­cased in plas­tic.

The su­per­mar­ket has since told Adams that it was hav­ing a prob­lem with fruit­fly in the hu­mid weather, but the tweet struck a nerve with other users as they vented on the dif­fi­cul­ties of be­ing green and still buy­ing their daily bread or veg­eta­bles.

Some talked about us­ing pa­per mush­room bags as al­ter­na­tives to the plas­tic bags of­fered, or tak­ing prod­ucts out of the pack­ag­ing and leav­ing it be­hind as a protest.

They also de­scribed the an­noy­ance of check­out op­er­a­tors and peo­ple queu­ing be­hind them when they put sin­gle fruit and veg­eta­bles through the check­out.

Oth­ers sug­gested that check­out bags were just the first step, and that change was com­ing in stages.

Stuff colum­nist Ali­son Mau tweeted: ‘‘Last week @Count­downNZ only thing avail­able to put cherry toma­toes in was plas­tic pun­nets. I put mine in a pa­per mush­room bag and BOY was the check­out op­er­a­tor p...ed with me. I po­litely sug­gested it was some­thing she might pass on to man­age­ment (cos not her fault).’’

An­other tweet said: ‘‘Su­per­mar­kets used to get an­noyed at ppl [peo­ple] us­ing mush­room bags for other pro­duce be­cause they’re more ex­pen­sive to pro­vide. They stopped pro­vid­ing them for a while but got too many com­plaints.’’

Adams, who used to do waste au­dits, said some plas­tic pack­ag­ing made sense to elim­i­nate food waste, but he’d never seen the like of it.

‘‘There are some ar­eas where it is nec­es­sary for plas­tic pack­ag­ing. I think cu­cum­bers are one ex­am­ple where the amount of food waste you would have from not pack­ag­ing them out­weighs the cost of the shrink wrap,’’ he said.

‘‘Peo­ple have weird hang-ups about these kinds of things . . . But the muffins are usu­ally gone half­way through the day.’’

Coin­ci­den­tally, a pe­ti­tion on Change.org has been launched ask­ing su­per­mar­kets to stop wrap­ping cu­cum­bers in plas­tic. It’s aim­ing ini­tially for 2500 sig­na­tures and yes­ter­day had clocked more than 2200.

Pe­ti­tion or­gan­iser Sheree Vey­sey said plas­tic wrap­ping

was not what con­sumers wanted ‘‘from a veg­etable we are go­ing to wash or peel’’.

‘‘I just feel sick when I go into the su­per­mar­ket and I see it there and I’ve tried to kind of go in and [men­tion it] to se­nior staff but they’re like, ‘It’s our sup­pli­ers,’ and I’m like, ‘Well, you’re the pur­chaser for the sup­pli­ers.’ Where’s it go­ing to start?’’

Vey­sey said su­per­mar­kets and con­sumers had to jointly take the lead on re­duc­ing the use of soft plas­tics.

‘‘I would very much sup­port a su­per­mar­ket that chose to take a lead – I think they have an eth­i­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity,’’ she said.

‘‘We’re wired for con­ve­nience . . . Some of us are mak­ing re­ally de­lib­er­ate choices. I bring a big hand­bag, and I pop my ap­ples and my toma­toes into it and carry them up.

‘‘But we’re not mak­ing prof­its as con­sumers, whereas they [the su­per­mar­kets] need to step up . . . I think we’re go­ing to look back in 10 years and not be­lieve how in­cred­i­bly waste­ful we were.’’

Soft plas­tics have been in­creas­ingly in the spot­light since it was an­nounced just be­fore Christ­mas that the na­tional col­lec­tion sys­tem had been sus­pended, be­cause its key Aus­tralian buyer stopped ac­cept­ing New Zealand plas­tic.

To an­swer their crit­ics, su­per­mar­kets have also been bring­ing in re­cy­cled plas­tic con­tain­ers for bak­ery and del­i­catessen items and re­cy­cled PET meat trays – al­though peo­ple can’t al­ways tell the dif­fer­ence.

There was dis­may when Welling­ton City Coun­cil staff dis­cov­ered in Septem­ber that re­cy­clable PET meat trays had been shipped off to Malaysian land­fills.

Count­down said it was tri­alling pa­per bags in the bak­ery sec­tion be­fore rolling them out to all 180 stores.

The su­per­mar­ket gi­ant had been very open about the need for al­ter­na­tives to plas­tic and sin­gle-use pack­ag­ing, a spokes­woman said.

‘‘How­ever, we don’t just want to pro­vide our cus­tomers with a slightly bet­ter al­ter­na­tive. We want to pro­vide them with vi­able, long-term so­lu­tions,’’ the spokes­woman said.

‘‘This work will take some time to get right, be­cause we have to make sure any al­ter­na­tives meet a range of re­quire­ments in­clud­ing things like en­sur­ing food safety, main­tain­ing fresh­ness, and an abil­ity to with­stand trans­porta­tion both into and out of our stores.

‘‘We also have to make sure these al­ter­na­tives meet needs of our cus­tomers and team in that they are easy to use and to process at the check­out.’’

Food­stuffs said the phas­ing out of sin­gle-use plas­tic bags in Jan­uary was ‘‘the tip of the ice­berg’’ of its plas­tic waste goals, which are to have 100 per cent re­us­able, re­cy­clable or com­postable pri­vate-la­bel pack­ag­ing by 2025.

‘‘We’re ex­plor­ing plas­tic al­ter­na­tives across our stores and are com­mit­ted to en­sur­ing all waste is kept to a min­i­mum.

‘‘But due to food safety re­quire­ments, some soft plas­tics were re­quired to pro­tect food against a va­ri­ety of con­tam­i­nants, es­pe­cially in ex­tremely hot weather.

‘‘Mon­u­men­tal change for the greater good of the en­vi­ron­ment takes time, par­tic­i­pa­tion and lead­er­ship from both sup­pli­ers and re­tail­ers, such as our­selves.’’

‘‘I think we’re go­ing to look back in 10 years and not be­lieve how in­cred­i­bly waste­ful we were.’’ Pe­ti­tion or­gan­iser Sheree Vey­sey, left

SUPPLIED; STUFF

Clock­wise from top left: Plas­tic pack­ag­ing in a Porirua su­per­mar­ket bak­ery; in­di­vid­u­ally wrapped onions at a Welling­ton Pak’n Save last month; re­cy­cled plas­tic is in­creas­ingly be­ing used by su­per­mar­kets in­stead of vir­gin plas­tic; the na­tion­wide soft-plas­tics col­lec­tion sys­tem was put on hold at Christ­mas.

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