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Working with local suppliers to tackle plastic packaging

10 April 2019

Recently, a grocery store in Amsterdam made headlines for being the first to offer an aisle without plastic packaging.

This addresses the move towards a plastic-free society, which many consumers will welcome.

But could a move towards unwrapping produce have the unintentional effect of creating more food waste?

The importance of packaging

In the UK it is estimated that we waste 1.9 million tonnes of food per year. Approximately 400,000 tonnes of this could be redistributed to those in need.

The longer a food item stays fresh, the greater its chance of being eaten. Studies have shown that cucumbers wrapped in plastic last 11 days longer than unwrapped cucumber; bananas wrapped in plastic last 21 days longer than their unwrapped counterparts.

Meeting our customers' needs

All our market research points to customers shopping more frequently with smaller basket sizes. This tells us that our customers are looking for a faster, more convenient shop.

We have three types of stores that are designed to meet our customers’ needs on a supply and demand basis:

  • Grande Marché
  • Locale
  • En Route

Our Locale and En Route stores are designed to meet the need for convenience – you’ll notice more wrapped fruit and vegetables in these stores. And if you go into the larger stores there is more loose produce to buy.

It’s all about giving our customers options.

So how to solve the food waste vs single-use plastic dilemma?

With all this in mind, perhaps the answer to the packaging conundrum is to ensure that packaging is sustainable and 100% recyclable.

That’s why we’re constantly looking to improve the packaging on pre-packed items available in our stores. There is much work being done behind the scenes to ensure that we are meeting our customers’ demands, in a responsible and sustainable way.

Have a read of the UK Co-op Group blog to see some of the improvements that are coming into our own brand product packaging.

Our work closer to home

On the islands, we have been working with our local suppliers to see what progress we can make.

These are some examples of how our local suppliers are addressing this important issue:

Woodside Farms – Jersey

Woodside farms stock our Jersey and Guernsey stores with fresh produce. They’ve been working hard to reduce the amount of plastic packaging on these items.

  • Their punnets have been changed from black plastic to clear recycled PET across both islands. Not only are these more earth-friendly from a recycling point of view, but they also use 32% less material, which is a significant reduction.
  • They’ve been reducing the thickness of film packaging and shrink wrap, making significant improvements in the overall amount of plastic being used.
  • They’re also following up on an eco-friendly alternative to plastic, which they will introduce if it proves to be a viable alternative. The product they are investigating is sustainable and breaks down in 90 days and is a by-product of sugar cane.

Guernsey Mushrooms

You will see that most of the trays that are provided in our stores now by Guernsey Mushrooms are clear recycled PET. Any remaining brown trays are the end of their stock and will soon be worked through so that the only trays provided in our stores are recyclable.

Plastic free produce

In July 2019 we launched our plastic free produce trial in our Grand Marché stores. Our local Channel Islands produce is now available without packaging where possible in these stores. 

Internal audit

We have recently had an audit with our local packaging company and you will notice in future that less of our in-store baked goods are wrapped.

We are also working on solutions to single-use produce bags, in an effort to provide a more sustainable alternative. In the meantime, we encourage customers to use reusable produce bags where they can, or reuse their plastic ones where safe and hygienic to do so.

We continue to monitor industry best practice and will keep you informed as we continue to make more progress.

Take a look at our plastics page for more.