Supermarkets are to begin selling the vast majority of fresh fruit and veg loose within three years, in a commitment hailed as perhaps the biggest breakthrough yet in the war on plastic.
Wrap today unveiled a list of 24 products, including apples, bananas, broccoli and cucumbers, which will be the first to see packaging scrapped under sweeping changes to shelves, which it predicts will save over 21,500 tonnes of plastic waste per year.
Its new guidance, agreed in talks with all the major supermarkets and suppliers, also calls for the scrapping of all best before guidance, unless it can be shown to reduce food waste, describing it as a huge cause of food waste in the home.
The Grocer exclusively revealed in December that the clock was ticking on loose fruit and veg packaging, with an 18-month study finding fears that its removal would cause a major spike in food waste were vastly exaggerated.
Instead, today’s report from Wrap claims a “staggering” 100,000 tonnes of food waste (plus 130,000 tonnes of CO2e) could be prevented from removing packaging from the top five most wasted fresh fruit and veg products, with the total likely to be far higher if extended across most products.
The body told The Grocer it believes as much as 80% of all packaging on fresh fruit and veg could be removed by 2025 and had called for supermarkets to act “as a matter of urgency” to implement the guidance.
Other products among the 24 highlighted include aubergines, avocados, carrots, onions and peppers.
The Grocer understands supermarkets have agreed to produce amalgamated data showing their progress in getting rid of fruit and veg packaging as part of the UK Plastics Pact, although they are being urged by Wrap to also report publicly to ensure transparency.
However, it admitted some supermarkets were not yet equipped.
“The rate of progress will vary across supermarkets depending on their current offering and infrastructure,” says Wrap’s evidence. “For example, some tills do not have checkouts with weighing capability while others have a wide range of products available loose.”
Efforts in eliminating plastic packaging have been equally mixed. Having introduced dedicated areas to buy loose fruit and vegetables to 63 stores in 2019, offering up to 127 loose varieties, Morrisons extended the reach of this range to 332 of its 497 stores in 2020.
However, in December 2019, The Grocer revealed Iceland abandoned a single-store loose produce trial after it claimed the move led to a 30% drop in sales.
According to today’s report from Wrap, 80% of apples and bananas, 88% of cucumbers and 97% of grapes are currently sold in plastic packaging, although the body admits there are major scientific challenges facing products such as soft berries to get rid of packaging without increasing food waste.
The new guidance also says supermarkets will be expected to get rid of best before dates unless there are exceptional reasons they are needed, with its research showing this is a major driver of people disposing of food too early.
As well as packaging for fruit and veg, Wrap also today updated its list of key problematic plastics for the UK with Plastics Pact members promising to seek to remove a list of products by the the end of 2022 including including plastic wrapping for multi-sales of tins, bottles and cartons, PVC clingfilm, and non-compostable tea and coffee bags.
Wrap also called for a concerted campaign to improve consumer knowledge on how refrigeration of products such as apples and potatoes below 5°C at home can massively extend their edible lifespan.
“This important research could be a game-changer in the fight against food waste and plastic pollution,” said Wrap CEO Marcus Gover.
“We have demystified the relationship between wasted food, plastic packaging, date labels and food storage.
“While packaging is important and often carries out a critical role to protect food, we have proven that plastic packaging doesn’t necessarily prolong the life of uncut fresh produce. It can in fact increase food waste.”