Azara Blog: Plastic reduces food waste in shops

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Date published: 2008/04/26

The Financial Times says, in an extremely long article about plastic:

According to [Dick] Searle [(chief executive of the Packaging Federation)], packaging has played an unacknowledged role in the expansion of cities beyond one million inhabitants and the emancipation of women. But his most arresting claim is undisputed: that societies without sophisticated packaging lose half their food before it reaches consumers. In the UK, waste in our supply chains is about 3 per cent. In India, it is more than 50 per cent. The difference comes later: we throw out 30 per cent of the food we buy - an environmental cost in terms of emissions equivalent to a fifth of the cars on our roads.
Since October last year, The Co-op has been selling cucumbers without a layer of film. "The wraps are off," says a spokeswoman. In response, the Cucumber Growers' Association (CGA) tested 20 cucumbers, which it refers to as "cues", against the new conditions, under which they are now transported in a plastic bag inside a protective cardboard box and then placed, filmless, on the supermarket shelf. (Most wrapped cucumbers are shipped on re-usable plastic trays, but these have sharp edges which would damage the naked ones). The cucumber growers argue that more packaging than the original 1.5g per item is now being used - albeit out of sight of customers - in return for a loss of more than a week of shelf-life and frost damage in the fridge. "Most people have their refrigerators set to 4C," complains Derek Johnson, of the CGA. "That's far too cold for a cue."

In the same vein, Marks & Spencer commissioned a study to find out which had less environmental impact: selling apples loose or wrapped. "We wanted to understand the actual science behind it," says Helene Roberts, head of packaging. Measured by tonne of apples sold, M&S packaged apples (four on a paper tray, covered by plastic film) needed 27 per cent less packaging than those sold loose (moved from one cardboard box to another). "It's quite a hard message to get over," admits Roberts. Other attempts to cut down on packaging have produced similarly mixed results. Asda, for instance, took all fruit and vegetables out of its packaging at its branch in Southport last year but had to suspend the trial indefinitely after the store”s wastage rate doubled.

For some reason the academic middle class has become hysterical about plastic (in particular plastic bags) the last few years. Needless to say, anything the academic middle class becomes hysterical about gets loads of media coverage, and then the government and/or business is often forced "to do something". 99 times out of 100, "doing something" that the academic middle class wants makes matters worse, not better. This is the problem with listening to people who talk, rather than people who do.

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