Replacing single-use fruit and vegetable bags could be the next logical step for supermarket chains in the fight to reduce their plastic footprint.
That’s the view of local volunteers with Greenpeace who have been out and about across Huddersfield town centre providing paper bags for customers to pack their produce.
They will be on the streets of Huddersfield again this weekend with a stall planned outside Sainsbury’s at Shorehead from 11.30am on Saturday.
As the UK’s retail giants move away from 5p plastic bags Greenpeace campaigners say allowing consumers to buy loose fruit and vegetables in sustainably sourced recycled carrier bags is an option that will not exacerbate the problem of ocean plastic.
Jeff Rice, a volunteer with Huddersfield Greenpeace, said using paper bags would also avoid “excessive” packaging thus allowing major retailers to make small changes.
“Plastic pollution in our oceans is a huge problem,” he said. “Supermarkets can do so much to help tackle the problem. We thought we’d take the initiative and leave some paper bags in the fruit and veg sections of a few Huddersfield supermarkets.”
The move has received the backing of Huddersfield-born retail expert Kate Hardcastle who praised Iceland Foods for what she described as “pivotal advancements” in setting a definitive and public example on its black plastic use.
She said supermarkets “could and should” replace single-use fruit/veg bags, adding: “I believe there has been a sluggish attitude to improvements in material use like this but things are on the turn.”
Mr Rice added that big companies that add plastic packaging or plastic elements to their products “really need to get on board” and bring in alternatives.
“Customers are often only provided with single-use plastic bags for buying loose fruit and vegetables and these plastic bags are usually used once and disposed of,” he said.
“People who try to avoid the excessive packaging of fruit and vegetables in multiple layers of plastic trays and wrapping by choosing loose produce often find they have to buy their loose fruit and vegetables in a plastic bag anyway.”
He and his fellow volunteers distributed paper bags and spread their message in Huddersfield’s branches of Tesco and Sainsbury’s.
So what do the supermarkets have to say?
* Aldi says all packaging on its own-label products will be recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2022. This applies to fruit and veg.
* Asda is “exploring all avenues” in order to meet its commitments and are “always open to new suggestions.”
* Morrisons is currently trialling paper bags in fruit and vegetables at its Guiseley store near Leeds. A spokeswoman said it will listen to what customers think before making any decisions.
* Sainsbury’s bags can be recycled along with its carrier bags in-store.
* Tesco is supportive of “a holistic approach” and will look at all options to reduce waste and increase recycling that includes making all packaging fully recyclable or compostable by 2025. A spokesman said it currently has no plans for an alternative option to single-use fruit/vegetable bags.
* Waitrose said it will continue to look into the option of offering paper bags instead of plastic for loose fruit and veg. But a spokeswoman pointed out that while paper may seem like a good alternative it can sometimes come with its own environmental impacts, needing more raw material and energy to produce than plastic. “For example, it can take more than three times as much energy to manufacture a paper bag than a plastic one,” she said.
Huddersfield Greenpeace’s actions took place to coincide with Earth Day, an annual global event running since 1970. This year’s theme was “Ending Plastic Pollution”.
Lidl did not respond to a request to comment.