The food industry’s war on plastic will of course take a back seat in the news agenda given concern over real hostilities in Ukraine, but today nevertheless saw what could be a key moment in this environmental conflict.
Wrap’s announcement that plastic used on fresh fruit & veg is to be added to the list of packaging retailers and suppliers will look to remove as part of the UK Plastics Pact, is the sort of landmark moment the industry desperately needed.
Of course, even with the pandemic stalling efforts to reduce plastic on shelves, there has been no shortage of news about breakthroughs in this area.
In the past week alone we saw Tesco announce it had removed more than one-and-a-half billion pieces of plastic from its UK business since it launched its 4Rs strategy to remove it from packaging.
But while there have been many examples of individual retailers and suppliers taking action, the sad reality is the overall industry has fallen behind on its targets for plastic reduction.
In November, The Grocer revealed how the food industry faced missing the UK Plastics Pact goals, despite reducing the amount of packaging on supermarket shelves by 10% in the period 2018-2020.
Not only had the pandemic put the brakes on initiatives, but the cost of reformulating packaging such as polystyrene meant the amounts of the stuff in circulation had barely budged.
Still, Wrap is hailing today’s announcement as a “game-changer” – albeit while recognising retailers still have work to do to turn this into a reality.
There are major technical barriers for some products such as fresh berries, for example, and it has emerged some supermarkets still lack the technology on many of their tills to even weigh loose fruit, let alone get rid of its packaging. Which is remarkable considering other advancements.
Yet we must not forget that this report, 18 months in the making, has been produced following talks with all the main supermarkets and suppliers.
The Grocer today revealed they have agreed to produce amalgamated data showing their progress in getting rid of fruit & veg packaging, with Wrap also urging the important addition of transparent reporting to the public on a company basis.
It is confident this will see as much as 80% of fresh fruit packaging disappear by 2025.
This is just the sort of industry-wide approach that is needed if the war on plastic is to be won.
It’s not just the 21,500 tonnes of plastic waste per year that is forecast to be saved that makes this report a milestone, it also appears to nail the myth that plastic reduction will inevitably lead to a huge spike in food waste.
In fact, Wrap claims a “staggering” 100,000 tonnes of food waste (plus 130,000 tonnes of CO2e) could be prevented by the measures.
That’s largely because people will be able to buy the exact amount of fruit they need rather than set pack sizes, which are often much larger than required. But also because the guidance is recommending an end to best before dates, which are a major cause of food waste.
So while the industry gets a lot of stick from campaigners, sometimes rightly so, let’s applaud this breakthrough and look forward to seeing it put into practice on the shelves.