Countdown says it is looking to review its use of plastic and styrofoam in the face of persistent consumer criticism. More than 5000 people have signed a petition currently doing the rounds on Facebook which calls for Countdown to stop selling pieces of fruit and individual vegetables on polystyrene trays wrapped in plastic.
The petition’s founder, Cat Atkinson, says the practice is unnecessary and contributes to plastic pollution.
“Wrapping fresh food in plastic is an unnecessary use of non-biodegradable materials, which is leading to the proliferation of harmful waste, much of which is ending up in our oceans,” she says. “The world is overloaded with plastic.”
Countdown also won Unpackit’s last Worst Packaging Award in 2013 for the same practice. The waste-busting organisation said selling fruit and vegetables on trays with extra plastic was “a classic example of unnecessary packaging which drives consumers mad.”
Kerbside recycling collections don’t widely accept polystyrene meat-trays or plastic wrap, Unpackit said, adding that fruit and vegetables generally “come with their own packaging”.
A Countdown representative said the plastic wrap was used “primarily as a way to keep produce fresh and hygienic – particularly when it has been cut”.
She said that wrapping individual produce items is not standard practice, but organic produce is a different case: “We do need to ensure separation of our organic produce from conventional produce throughout the supply chain, so that our customers receive the organic products they seek. Our packaging enables us to achieve this.”
The representative says Countdown is looking to review its use of plastic and styrofoam in stores as part of a drive towards more sustainable and environmentally-friendly practices.
She said that since 2006, Countdown had increased recycling by 25 percent and reduced waste to landfill by 42 percent.
Foodstuffs used the same polystyrene tray and plastic wrap method of packaging produce until 2013, when it also won Unpackit’s Worst Packaging wooden spoon.
Mike Sammons, sustainability manager for Foodstuffs New Zealand says Foodstuffs is keen not to pass the burden of packaging on to customers.
“From 2013, all our New World and Pak’n Save stores throughout New Zealand have been actively encouraged to use alternative packaging to polystyrene trays for all departments outside of butchery,” Sammons says. “We have monitored the situation and have noted a significant shift away from polystyrene in our bakery, deli and produce areas as the stores have transitioned from stocks of poly trays to the new alternatives.”
He says later this year, Foodstuffs will be trialling a new meat tray in stores which is kerbside recyclable.