A member of the House of Lords is calling on the Government to force supermarkets to scrap “unnecessary” plastic wrapping on vegetables, specifically cucumbers.
Lord Hayward says UK supermarkets should follow other European supermarkets which he says offer customers a larger selection of vegetables unwrapped.
The Cucumber Growers Association estimates 490 tons of plastic wrap is used to cover cucumbers in the UK every year, with around 220,000 tons of cucumbers sold in 2016.
Lord Hayward told Sky News he has raised the issue in Parliament and wants the Government to act.
“I’ve made the point, I intend to continue to pursue it, It’s clear that I have support from other people in relation to it. I want the Government to impose the pressure on the retailers and the retailers to think about the position and educate the customers. By doing both of those, you will actually dramatically reduce the amount of waste that we have around.”
Video: Supermarkets support bottle deposit scheme
He says the focus should not be on creating recyclable plastic, but on getting rid of it altogether.
“I think it would be better if we had no recyclable plastics for many of the products… it sounds nice to say – ‘oh we are doing recyclable plastics’, but a lot of them are ending up in the ocean.”
He says better supermarket distribution methods and different shopping habits on the Continent prove there’s no need for so much wrapping.
There is no specific law in the UK to ensure cucumbers are wrapped.
One supermarket, Co-Op, has tried selling them unwrapped before but says doing so increases food waste.
Iain Ferguson, Co-Op’s environment manager, said: “The packaging actually helps to increase the shelf life, for example on cucumbers, we used to sell them unwrapped. We did a full-scale trial in 2012 measuring the waste of wrapped and unwrapped cucumbers and we found that by wrapping the cucumbers we reduced the waste by two thirds.”
Video: Could your takeaway be taxed?
The Government says it is not monitoring plastic packaging practices on the Continent.
In response to Lord Hayward’s questions on the issue, Lord Gardiner of Kimble said: “Food businesses do cover cucumbers to improve the shelf life of these products and reduce food waste, as the environmental impact of wasting food is far greater than the packaging containing it.
“We have had no discussions with retailers regarding the packaging of cucumbers over the last five years and have no plans to review the practice.”
The environmental group A Plastic Planet runs “A Plastic Free Aisle” campaign which wants all supermarkets to offer an aisle of products with no plastic wrapping.
Video: Arctic Peril: The documentary
Founder Sian Sutherland said: “It’s almost like this human right has been taken from us, that supermarkets are there to give us value and choice. They are amazing at doing this and supermarkets in the UK are very powerful. Right now, we can buy gluten free, fat free, dairy free, wheat free, you know all of these things – but we can’t buy plastic free.”
A Plastic Planet hopes creating plastic-free aisles will encourage consumers to think before buying fresh products wrapped in packaging.
More from Sky Ocean Rescue
It comes as resources charity WRAP says our shopping habits are expected to produce around two million tons of plastic packaging this year alone.
:: Sky has been running a campaign to make people more aware of the effect plastic has on the world’s oceans and to share ways of tackling the problem. To get involved in Sky Ocean Rescue, visit the campaign website here. You can also watch our documentary, A Plastic Voyage.