Plastic packaging prompts petition

1:45 pm on 25 June 2015

A Whanganui woman is taking a stand against supermarkets wrapping fruit and vegetables in plastic packaging.

Packaged food.

Catriona Atkinson has started a petition asking Countdown supermarkets to scrap the wrap. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Catriona Atkinson has started a petition asking Countdown supermarkets to scrap the wrap, and it has been signed by nearly 7000 people so far.

Some of the items observed at a Wellington Countdown by Radio New Zealand included seven radishes in a plastic box, seven mushrooms laid out on a tray sweating under a layer of plastic film and two eggplants in a pack moulded to their shape and sheathed in a plastic bag.

But for the organiser of the petition trying to put a stop to this, it is a soup pack of parsnip, swede, onions, carrot and celery which really winds her up.

Ms Atkinson is aiming the petition at Countdown, because that's where she shops, but she wanted other supermarkets to lay off the packaging, too.

"There is definitely a lot of marketing coming in now, treating fruits and vegetables as products that can be package and pitched at people and sold for a lot more than they would normally."

Supermarkets had a responsibility to monitor the way suppliers are packaging products, Ms Atkinson said.

Shopper Jane Kitchenman with some of the vegetables packaged by Countdown.

Shopper Jane Kitchenman with some of the vegetables packaged by Countdown. Photo: RNZ / Teresa Cowie

Outside a Countdown supermarket in Wellington, English teacher Jane Kitchenman, who describes herself as a conscious consumer, said she was unimpressed by the soup pack which had irked the petition organiser.

"The vegetables that are in it actually keep for a long time out of packaging and don't need to be in packaging like that, it could be in a bag. The celery looks decidedly unappetising."

The packaging is also a bit over the top for beneficiary David - but he said he might be swayed to buy the eggplant twin-pack because it had a recipe written on the packet.

"I'd go for the one that's dumbed down that you don't have to think about you just follow the recipe, eggplants, they're exotic and a lot of people don't know how to cook eggplant," he said.

Unpacked options available, Countdown says

No one from Countdown supermarket was available to be interviewed but it said many of the vegetables it sold have an unpacked option.

It said in a statement there were good reasons some of it fresh produce was packaged.

"We use plastic wrap primarily as a way to keep produce fresh and hygienic - particularly when it has been cut," the statement said.

"Additionally, we do need to ensure separation of our organic produce from conventional produce throughout the supply chain, so that our customers receive the organic products they seek. Our packaging enables us to achieve this."

But Gina Dempster, who organises the Unpackit Awards - which Countdown won for its over packing of courgettes in 2013 - said that did not make sense.

"What we found was that people who wanted to buy organic food often felt very strongly about packaging and wanted to buy food with minimal packaging," she said.

"It's really just a matter of telling the organic produce from the normal produce when it goes through the cash register and I'm sure we can think up a much better way than wrapping it in plastic."

Countdown said it was in talks with suppliers to try to find alternatives to styrofoam which were more environmentally friendly and cost effective.