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Food Unwrapped

Removing plastic packaging from fruit and vegetables could dramatically slash waste, a report has shown.

Waste charity WRAP has come up with a three-point plan to cut down on the waste of five frequently thrown away fresh items – cucumbers, potatoes, apples, broccoli and bananas.

WRAP – which stands for Waste & Resources Action Programme – is calling on retailers to sell loose produce, remove date labels and provide storage advice when selling the five items.

And its research estimates that following the three-point plan on the five items alone will add up to a saving of 100,000 tonnes of food waste and 10,300 tonnes of plastic wrap.

The charity points to multipacks of produce being sold when the customer only wants one or two, leading to the rest being wasted.

“Whilst the study focused on five commonly wasted items, there are many more products that are currently sometimes sold loose where the research could also be applied,” the report said.

“This is not without its challenges. Supply chains have been optimised to sell fresh produce packaged and people have become accustomed to buying it that way.

“Solutions will need to be found to reconfigure supply chains and store operations, and to make it easy and convenient for people to buy loose produce.”

The 18-month study that WRAP has carried out shows that to reduce food waste customers need to be given the chance to buy the quantity of fresh produce they need rather than a pre-packed multipack.

Someone shopping for one might only need one or two apples or potatoes – and supermarkets can better suit the needs of individuals if they sell loose fresh produce instead of the single-use plastic wrapped multi-packs that are a common sight on our supermarket shelves.

WRAP’s new research shows that where supermarkets offer fresh produce packaged in this type of single-use plastic packaging consumers are often forced to buy more than they need – which ultimately results in them contributing to the huge food waste problem we face globally.

As we all work to reduce our impact on the environment this is a huge part of the puzzle – one third of all food produced for human consumption goes to waste. Fresh produce makes up a large part of the problem with almost half a million tonnes of fresh vegetables and salad and a quarter of a million tonnes of fresh fruit binned annually in the UK.

This is not just about food waste either – plastic packaging contributes to our plastic pollution problem that David Attenborough shone a spotlight on in his Blue Planet documentary back in 2017.

There is limited recycling infrastructure for this type of plastic in the UK – most local authorities don’t collect it; some supermarkets offer collection points, but not all consumers have access to recycling this material. It’s likely most of it either goes to landfill, is incinerated – which contributes to greenhouse gas emissions – or in the worst case it becomes plastic pollution in the environment.

There is hope that this new research gives supermarkets the confidence to offer a new set-up when it comes to selling fresh produce now the research has proved rather than prolonging the shelf-life of products, the current system contributes to a problem that has several negative impacts – on both household finances and the environment.

At Warrens Group, we are one of the region’s pioneers of food waste recycling services, after launching the North East’s first bespoke anaerobic digestion facility in 2012.