New Zealand's Fruits and Vegetables are Going Packaging-Free

This could be the beginning of the end of plastic packaging in supermarkets.

Jan 28, 2020

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Supermarket chains in the US and Canada are ditching single use plastics and zero waste is a growing trend in Europe. This is especially the case when it comes to packaging fruits and vegetables. A supermarket in Thailand is wrapping produce in banana leaves and many of the New World supermarkets in New Zealand are letting their fruits and vegetables go packaging-free.

In an innovative project pioneered by the New World supermarket located at Bishopdale in Christchurch, this change has led to an amazing increase in sales according to The New Zealand Herald.

"We monitor them year on year and after we introduced the concept, we noticed sales of spring onions, for example, had increased by 300 percent," Bishopdale's owner Nigel Bond told NZ Herald. "There may have been other factors at play, but we noticed similar increases in other vegetable varieties like silver beets and radishes."

Bond explained, "When we first set up the new shelving our customers were blown away. It reminded me of when I was a kid going to the fruiterer with my Dad, you could smell the fresh citrus and spring onions. By wrapping products in plastic, we sanitize and deprive people of this experience; it [dispensing with plastic]was a huge driver for us."

This new initiative is part of the movement to do away with all single-use plastic packaging. There are actually government regulations that went into effect on July 1, 2019 for a mandatory phase out of plastic bags by all retailers.

New Zealanders use 31 kg of plastic packaging per capita and only recycle 5.58 kgs, according to Facts on Plastic Waste. Plastics take up as much as 20 percent of New Zealand's landfill space to the tune of 252,000 tons per year. Plastics can take thousands of years to biodegrade and every more and  more plastic makes its way into our oceans where it endangers marine life.

The idea for the unwrapped produce came from bond and his store manager Gary May over two years ago when they noticed that fresh produce was being delivered with plastic wrapping. They thought that seemed crazy and they decided to do something about it, Bond told NZ Herald.

He went on a study tour in the US and was impressed by the merchandising at Whole Foods. Then he spoke to growers and suppliers who were more than happy to look at different ways to provide produce sans the plastic packaging.

The store bought a new refrigerated shelving system for produce that included a misting process to keep the fruits and vegetables.

"Vegetables are 90 percent water and studies have shown that misted produce not only looks better, retains its color and texture, but also has higher vitamin content," Bond said. "We've also installed a reverse osmosis system that treats the water by removing 99 per cent of all bacteria and chlorine, so we are confident the water we're misting with remains pure."

Now, most of the produce is plastic free but some items – including berries, grapes and some tomatoes – still come wrapped in plastic and mushrooms are packaged in cardboard recyclable trays.

At first, Bond was concerned that his experiment could backfire saying, "when you take on these projects, they can be a disaster and lead to customer pushback but in my 30 years in the supermarket industry this simple change has resulted in the most positive feedback from customers I have ever received."

Now, nine New World supermarkets in the South Island have followed the Bishopdale's stores example. And New world is testing another new initiative to BYO containers for the meat and seafood departments.  

All of this is part of the supermarket chain (which is owned by Foodstuffs) commitment to sustainable practices. In fact, Foodstuffs have signed the NZ Plastic Packaging Declaration which is committed to making all store and private label packaging 100 percent reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.

New Zealand's legislation is a major step in the right direction. We need to become plastic-free sooner rather than later and Eliminating plastic grocery bags is a good start. Ditching plastic wrapping on produce also a very painless way to make a big dent in the single-use plastics habit.

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.