Outrage grows over plastic wrapping
Consumers are finding it hard to be environmentally friendly at the supermarket bakery counter, writes Catherine Harris.
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
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.