The problem with buying vegetables in plastic packaging.

Video by Mamamia Women's Network.

 

What makes you want to buy vegetables? Is it the vibrant colour? The shape? The feel?

How about the packaging?

While packaging isn’t something we’d typically associate with fresh fruit and vegetables, in recent years it’s become a mainstay of the grocery aisle.

There are organic sweet potatoes on polystyrene trays, broccoli florets in bags and individually wrapped cucumbers.

Pumpkin pieces in meat-style packaging. (Image supplied.)

And while most Australians are supportive of a ban on plastic bags (including those in states where the ban is already in effect), it's the plastic in the fresh food aisle that's been overlooked by many.

Not by Pat Lowe, however. The Broome-based author and environmentalist has been leading a campaign to eliminate plastic packaging from the grocery section of supermarkets and independent grocers for two years.

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"We'd like to see big changes in the supermarkets. I'd be satisfied if they took me seriously and changed their practices," Lowe told Mamamia.

While a Change.org petition launched by Lowe in 2015 has gained more than 160,000 signatures, progress has been slow.

Listen: Once you get the veggies, here's a great way to get kids to eat them.

While some small changes have been made by Woolworths, in Lowe's opinion there was still far too much plastic packaging.

She said supermarkets' promises to use recyclable plastic meant little and instead suggested wrapping the produce in recycled paper or do away with packaging altogether:

"Lots of things a are recyclable, but if people are not recycling them then they're going into landfill like everything else."

According to Lowe, stickers or bands around certain produce was a step in the right direction, as is the use of recyclable polystyrene trays over the non-recyclable alternatives, but there is a long way to go.

Seeing trays of veggies is common now. (Image supplied.)

The retired psychologist said it was not only plastic's ever-growing contribution to landfill that was a concern, but its harmful impact on animals.

"Turtles eat plastic bags because they think they're jellyfish. They can get into the breathing holes of dolphins," she explained.

Not to mention that for consumers who are choosing organic produce - the major (but not the only) culprits - their decision to go for what's perceived as a more environmentally-friendly option is negated by excessive packaging.

So what are some supermarkets doing about plastic consumption?

A Coles spokesperson told Mamamia that Coles supermarkets strive to "prioritise the selling of loose fruit and vegetables to minimise packaging as much as possible".

"However, there are times when packaging is required to protect the product’s freshness and to ensure food safety from farm to home," the spokesperson said.

"If packaging is used, we aim to have the best environmental outcomes by using sustainable options such as recyclable PET or cardboard, which are fully recyclable at kerbside collections, and all plastic film we use can be brought back into stores to be recycled through the REDcycle program."

Woolworths shared the same sentiment, telling Mamamia the company tries to "use our packaging as efficiently as possible".

"Woolworths have several organic produce suppliers who have recently adopted recycled packaging and we have completed the total elimination of polystyrene trays from our produce organics supply network converting to compostable trays or recyclable plastic," the spokesperson said.

"We will continue to work with all of our suppliers to actively pursue packaging alternatives that reduce the amount of packaging or increasing its recyclability where possible."

Woolworths is also a member of the REDcycle program, which allows customers to return plastic shopping bags, biscuit packets, frozen food bags, rice and pasta bags and confectionery packets, amongst other items.

"In 2016, Woolworths customers returned more than 118 tonnes of plastic," the spokesperson added.

You can sign Pat Lowe's Change.org petition here
To join The Project's #BinTheBag campaign and sign the petition, click here.

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