NZ supermarket chain Countdown is trialling paper bags and cardboard boxes in the produce sections of three of its Auckland stores for 10 weeks to see how removing plastic from fruit and vegetables can be done safely.
Unwrapped: Countdown goes plastic-free in trial in Auckland supermarkets
Customers in three of Aukland’s Countdown stores are experiencing a very different-looking produce section this month, as part of a ten-week plastic reduction test which will see over a tonne of plastic removed from fruit and vegetables. More than 800 customers provided feedback in-store on the first morning of the trial.
Countdown trials paper and cardboard instead of plastic in the fresh produce section
Countdown, New Zealand’s leading supermarket brand, is trialling paper bags and cardboard boxes in the produce sections of three Auckland supermarkets for the next 10 weeks. During the the trial, most plastic bags will be removed from the produce sections at the supermarkets in Ōrewa, Ponsonby and Manukau.
Countdown spokeswoman Kiri Hannifin, said shoppers could use the paper options provided, put their produce loose into their trolley or use their own reusable bags and unpack and weigh produce at the check out.
The results of the trial would help make decision about the use of plastic in the future, Hannifin said. The trial stores were reflective of Countdown’s customer base, she said.
Some products, such as bagged lettuce and herb portions, would remain in plastic due to a lack of suitable alternatives but where possible any plastic packaging provided would be made from recyclable polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or recycled rPET, she said.
"We want to make sure that any changes we make are right for the future, and that we don’t cause bigger issues down the track, like more food waste for example," Hannifin said.
More than $500,000 had been spent on shelving, packaging and production changes for the trial.
Countdown Ponsonby manager Paul Maxwell said customers regularly asked about getting rid of plastic.
"It’s going to take a bit of behaviour change from us all but from what I’ve seen this morning in my store, customers are really excited about giving it a go and are adapting really well already," Maxwell said.
Hannifin said the amount of food waste and any impact on staff and suppliers would also be monitored during the trial.
Countdown phased out single use plastic bags at the checkout in October 2018, ahead of a national ban that took effect in July last year.
The supermarket giant wants to test whether the changes can be sustained long-term
"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," said Kiri Hannifin, Countdown’s general manager corporate affairs, safety and sustainability.
"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."
The supermarket giant wanted to test whether the changes could be sustained over the long-term and in a way that delivered better outcomes for the environment in Aotearoa.
"We’re mindful that packaging or process changes might cause bigger issues, so we need to understand this a lot better before we roll something out nationwide.
"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.
However, any changes that were made needed to be easy and convenient for shoppers and better for the environment.
"Unwrapped will change the way our customers shop for 10 weeks, but their feedback could have a long-lasting impact on how all New Zealanders shop in the future and help guide our next steps."
During the 10-week test, Countdown would talk to customers and its own 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." she added.
This follows the recent news that Australian supermarket chain Woolworths’ shoppers can reduce waste by bringing their own containers to take home seafood, meat, and deli items. Learn more.
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