Polystyrene trays used by supermarkets have been the subject of much public condemnation.
Progressive Enterprise’s fruit and vege meat trays won the 2013 Unpackit Awards for worst packaging.
Unpackit then said: “Back by popular demand! Fruit and vegetables on polystyrene meat-trays wrapped in plastic and sold on Countdown shelves. A classic example of unnecessary packaging which drives consumers mad. Kerbside recycling collections don’t widely accept polystyrene meat-trays or plastic wrap. Courgettes and pineapples come with their own wrapping.”
Foodstuffs won the award the previous year for also putting fruit and vegetables on polystyrene trays.
The award sparked Foodstuffs to start exploring more environmentally friendly packaging.
However, the war is still waging on fresh produce packaged on meat trays.
A petition made the rounds this year calling for Countdown to stop the practice. It was signed by more than 9000 people.
Presumably, packaging meat in such trays is slightly more understandable to consumers as meat has to be sealed in some shape or form.
Foodstuffs trialling environmentally friendly meat trays will be a move welcomed by many concerned about supermarket’s recycling practices.
Foodstuffs sustainability manager Mike Sammons says working out how to deal with meat juices has been the biggest challenge on the path to environmentally friendly packaging.
“As soon as meat juices are absorbed it means the packaging is contaminated and non-recyclable and also non-compostable from a home composting perspective at least,” Sammon says.
“Equally, we believe it’s better to encourage the public to recycle the packaging they take home, rather than compost either at home or through a kerbside scheme.”
He says the company has been researching a viable alternative for two years, and this year finally teamed up with Alto Packaging to create a recyclable tray.
The tray is 100 percent recyclable and 50 percent rPET (recycled plastic that has already been used for packaging).
Fluids can also be rinsed out of the tray, solving the problem of meat juices absorbing into the material.
“The bottom of the tray is designed to capture fluid and hold it there even when inverted but can equally be rinsed clean under a tap before being placed in the kerbside recycling box,” Sammon says.
Selected New World and Pak‘n Save stores are trialling the new trays, which come in blue and clear colours.
However, Sammon emphasizes it is very much a trial at this point, with the roll out of the trays dependent on how satisfied consumers are with them.
If all goes well and the trays are released to Foodstuffs’ stores, there will be a significant decrease in polystyrene use and a new demand for rPET material within New Zealand.
“To put the opportunity in context, I would estimate that New Zealand retail butchery (our stores and all others) currently pass on 250 million polystyrene trays to customers each year who then have no option but to send them directly to landfill,” Sammon says.
According to the Packaging Council of New Zealand, Kiwis consume about 735 thousand tonnes of packaging each year and only recycle 58 percent of it.
This equates to over 300 thousand tonnes of packaging going into New Zealand landfills each year.