April 15, 2021

Amid pressure to reduce plastic waste from grocery shopping, supermarket groups from around the world have launched initiatives to limit plastic packaging – but industry forecasts suggest demand for some fresh food packaging will grow.

The British-headquartered retailer Iceland, for instance, has announced that it has become the first supermarket group in the UK to use plastic-free packaging for Pink Lady apples.

According to a company statement, the move will cut the amount of plastic packaging it uses by seven tonnes a year.

“We are continuing to innovate our packaging as we continue on our journey to completely remove plastic from our own-label ranges by the end of 2023,” Richard Walker, Iceland’s Managing Director, said in a statement.

“We have worked hard to ensure this new paperboard packaging for our Pink Lady apples does not compromise the quality of the product whilst helping to reduce our plastic footprint.”

The supermarket group says that its drive to remove plastic from own-label packaging, announced in early 2018 and due to be completed by 2023, has already saved thousands of tonnes of material.

The coronavirus pandemic has been blamed for this increase in demand for single-use plastics as it led to more online grocery sales, which tend to involve more packaging.

Start-ups pledge to cut waste
Online portal Sifted has reported that multiple start-ups, that are attempting to develop ways to cut plastic waste, have emerged. Among them is Loop, from US recycling business Terracycle. Loop is working with the UK supermarket group Tesco to develop a “closed-loop” packaging system.

While closed-loop systems face myriad logistical difficulties, efforts appear to be gaining momentum, with reports from March indicating that Unilever has pumped $15 million (€12.5m) into the Closed Loop Partners’ Leadership Fund, a private equity fund that invests in companies that promote recycling.

This comes a year after reports indicated that just 2% of all plastic packaging is being kept within the closed loop (recycled into itself), while just 14% of the world’s plastic waste is captured for recycling.

New Seasons Market takes action
Meanwhile, New Seasons Market, which operates stores in the western United States, has announced it will stop selling single-use bottles of water by Earth Day, on April 22.

The group’s Senior Sustainability Manager, Athena Petty, said the initiative would cut the number of single-use plastic, aluminium and glass bottles in the world by 200,000 a year.

“We’re starting efforts with still water in containers of one litre or less because opting for reusables is an easy
individual choice to help lessen our collective environmental impact,” she said in a statement.

The company said it would take other measures to reduce waste, such as using lighter forms of packaging like clamshell containers.

Despite efforts, the research organisation Freedonia Group has forecast that, after a 5% jump in plastic container use in the United States in 2020, further increases are likely.

The group is predicting a 3.7% annual rise in the amount of packaging used or fresh produce, along with increases in demand for containers and pouches.

In a statement released to highlight its new report – Fresh Produce Packaging – Freedonia suggested growth was likely to be driven by surging demand for ready-to-eat (RTE) meals.

Consumers are also thought to have become keener to buy produce in pouches, bags and rigid plastic containers because of concerns over contamination during the pandemic.

“The sharp increase recorded in organic produce sales further bolstered plastic container demand, as these premium brands tend to employ value-added rigid packaging for product differentiation purposes, whereas non-organic brands tend to employ bags or pillow pouches due to their lower cost,” the statement said.

“Through 2024, sales of plastic containers are expected to outpace those for all other major packaging categories, as clamshells and other plastic containers continue to supplant commodity bags and pillow pouches due to their good protective and display properties.”

According to the environmental group Greenpeace, supermarkets in the United Kingdom alone are responsible for 900,000 tonnes of plastic packaging each year.

The organisation has highlighted the effects of packaging on the world’s oceans, which include marine life becoming entangled in, or eating, plastic waste.

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