Budgens of Islington

Government experts are to set out plans for a ban on packaging for fruit & veg in supermarkets, warning that unless it is introduced the UK will fail to hit its plastic reduction targets.

The Grocer has learnt that Wrap will present plans to ministers in the spring for EU-style restrictions covering many household fruit & veg items. The body has decided voluntary moves by the industry have been moving too slowly to hit its target of 30% of fruit & veg being sold without packaging by 2025.

Wrap has already scaled back expectations for removing plastic from fresh produce, having initially suggested in 2022 that as much as 80% of packaging could be removed within three years.

But the latest figures for the industry’s Plastic Pact, published this week, show that just 19% of fruit & veg is being sold loose. Wrap says the cost of living crisis and a lack of vital checkout weighing equipment in some supermarkets, such as the discounters, mean that on the current trajectory even the scaled-back target will not be hit.

“It’s clear that, if we are to achieve a step-change in how fruit & veg is sold in the UK, similar policy drivers to those proposed in the EU are required,” said a Wrap report.

EU countries, including France and Spain, have led the way in introducing laws banning packaging on many fruit & veg items.

The UK Plastics Pact, which launched five years ago, pledged to eliminate all problematic and unnecessary packaging on products by 2025.

Helen Bird, head of business collaboration at Wrap, said the industry had made good progress with some materials, including reducing the use of PVC by 82% and polystyrene by a quarter.

But she admitted it would be “a struggle” for the industry to reach its target and it would not happen unless the government was prepared to introduce regulation.

Bird said the cost of living crisis had also been a major factor in the slowdown on plastic reduction, both in deterring supermarket investment and public appetite, because of the increased cost of food.

Ahead of setting out its proposals to ministers, Wrap is also launching trials with several supermarkets that will explore ways of nudging consumers towards choosing loose fruit & veg over packaged products.

It will include the use of clearer pricing, and making loose products cheaper to buy than those in plastic.

Wrap’s call for legislation came as it told negotiators working on plans for a Global Treaty on plastic reduction in Nairobi this week that regulation was vital alongside voluntary industry efforts.

Wrap also warned of serious delays to plastic reduction caused by government rowbacks on plans for Extended Producer Responsibility and mandatory council collections, and also called for changes to the Plastic Packaging Tax. The changes would allow packaging produced from chemical recycling to be used by companies for food products in order to avoid the tax.

“Public-private partnerships like The UK Plastics Pact show just what’s achievable through collaboration,” said Wrap CEO Harriet Lamb. “We believe passionately that these models deliver big changes – fast. But it also shows the key role regulation must play.”