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Countdown to ditch unnecessary plastic as part of trial

New Zealand supermarket Countdown will get rid of plastic produce bags and more than a tonne of other plastics from three of its stores starting February 10.

The move is part of a 10-week trial to test if the supermarket can reduce plastic use long term across its store network.

Countdown supermarkets in Orewa, Ponsonby and Manukau will sell ‘unwrapped’ fruits and vegetables in specially-designed paper and cardboard packaging.

A total of 65 products will lose the usual plastic wraps and plastic produce bags will also be removed with customers encourage to bring reusable bags instead. Paper bags will also act as a replacement for plastic bags for bulk foods.

Countdown’s general manager corporate affairs, safety and sustainability, Kiri Hannifin, said the grocery invested more than NZ$500,000 in shelving, packaging and production for the trial.

“As part of Unwrapped we want to test whether the changes we’re making can be sustained over the long-term and in a way that delivers better outcomes for our environment here 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,” Hannifin said.

Some produce such as lettuce and herbs will remain in plastic due to a lack of suitable alternatives. These will be made from PET or RPET where possible which can be recycled and reused. Soft plastics can also be recycled at each of the Unwrapped stores.

Hannifin said that the supermarket is mindful that some products deteriorate faster than other if they are not packaged and is conscious that they don’t want to create unnecessary 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,” she said.

Hannifin said the feedback from the trial could have a “long-lasting impact” on how all New Zealanders shop in the future and will help guide the company’s next steps.

In October 2018, Countdown phased out single-use plastic shopping bags, removed 150 tonnes of plastic from produce and introduced BYO containers nationwide.

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