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Supermarkets trial plastic wrap-free fresh produce

Several New Zealand Countdown supermarkets are removing plastic produce bags and ‘unwrapping’ fresh produce in a 10-week trial to see if it is a viable long-term solution to plastic reduction.

Three supermarkets, under the Woolworths Group brand, will take part in the trials from February 10. These supermarkets are in Orewa, Ponsonby and Manukau – all in Auckland.

The new-look ‘unwrapped’ fruit and veg section, will feature less plastic and more loose produce, as well as new, specially-designed paper and cardboard packaging.

Sixty-five products will no longer feature their usual plastic wrap or pack. Plastic produce bags will also be removed with customers encouraged to use reusable bags; and paper bags will replace plastic bags for bulk foods.

Countdown’s general manager for corporate affairs, safety and sustainability Kiri Hannifin said the company invested more than $500,000 in shelving, packaging and production changes for the test. It’s an investment that has to be made to seriously reduce the use of plastic in the future, Hannifin explained.

“Like all Kiwis, we are incredibly passionate about the environment and reducing the amount of plastic and packaging in our produce section is something we, along with our customers, are keen to see.

“Unwrapped gives us a chance to give some new things a go with our growers and packhouses. We’re really excited about how these stores will look and feel for our customers and team,” Hannifin said.

Countdown aims to test whether the changes can be sustained over the long-term and in a way that delivers better outcomes for the environment, while being mindful that packaging or process changes might cause bigger issues.

“For example, without packaging, some products might deteriorate far faster, causing food waste – that’s something we absolutely want to avoid because of the detrimental impact food waste can have on the environment.

“We don’t want to replace one issue with another and as such we need to monitor food waste very closely,” Hannifin said.

Throughout the 10 week test, Countdown will be talking to its customers and team to understand opinions on the changes, as well as measuring a range of factors.

While some products, such as bagged lettuce and herb portions, will remain in plastic due to a lack of suitable alternatives, where possible any plastic packaging provided is made from PET or rPET which can be recycled and used over and over again. Soft plastics can also be recycled at each of the Unwrapped stores.