Plastic-Free Produce – How do we get there?

27th September 2017

Momentum has been building for a few years now against the over use of plastic in our modern lives. Earlier this week David Attenborough gave the movement a real push by giving an interview on the heart breaking consequences of the amount of plastic in our oceans on his beloved Albatross.

Last year it was calculated that a garbage truck full of plastic is emptied into our oceans EVERY MINUTE. Every. Minute. That’s an astonishing statistic calculated by working out that 32% of the 78 million tons of plastic packaging we produce annually is dumped in our oceans. At this rate by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

This plastic waste is destroying our world’s watery ecosystem and has an effect on our health too. Plastic can strangle sea animals or fill up its tummy stopping it eating. It also acts as a sponge for toxins which can then end up in our food and our bodies.

Recently there have been some success stories against the proliferation of plastic packaging. Charging 5p for single use supermarket bags reduced the use of these bags by an astonishing 83%. Tesco have now promised to improve further by trialling not offering 5p bags at all. More people are moving to reusable steel water bottles and the anti-plastic straw information released this summer helped raise awareness of how much these childhood delights contribute to the issue. It makes you realise just how entrenched in society the plastic problem is.

Our food is at the heart of the problem and produce is right up there as an area in need of redesign. In the UK just a third of plastic packaging waste is recycled. The film used on salad bags is, in theory, recyclable. In reality, you would have to drive to one of a small handful of specialist recycling centres to the UK to achieve this. Plastic is cheap and helps keep our produce clean and hygienic. It is an easy solution to buying produce in large volume.

The people that point to farmers’ markets selling raw produce en masse in big tubs make me a bit grumpy as it is, quite frankly, lazy and idealistic. Produce sold in supermarkets is safe, certified and its provenance is known, audited and monitored. That is better for all of us. Buying in such volume keeps the price down, again, better for all of us (and accessible for all of us in the current climate of both rising obesity and poverty). Individual containers work for the nature of the supermarket shop for products such as salad leaves and prevent cross contamination.

We all, throughout the supply base and the retail giant head offices, need to find solutions to the sea of plastic in the produce aisle. Marks and Spencer recently took an early gold medal and world record in the anti plastic supermarket olympics by moving all their avocado labelling to laser machines and dumping all those annoying curling stickers.

There is more cardboard appearing on the shelves. The cardboard punnets that don’t need a wax coating are totally recyclable. Cherry tomatoes are currently the product sold most in this format. The wax coated punnets are not recyclable but are still a small step forward in that they are at least not made of plastic.

We will all need to think harder, buy new machines, reimagine efficiencies and processes but it looks like the planet really needs us to stop using so much plastic now. As we need the planet in order to be able to produce the plants we are currently stuffing into the plastic the synergy seems obvious..!