Published today (24 February), a new report by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) is calling for the end to unnecessary plastic packaging and ‘best before’ labels on a wide range of fresh uncut fruit and vegetables in the UK.

Fruit and vegetablesConducting the research over 18 months, WRAP tested five commonly wasted items – apples, bananas, broccoli, cucumber and potatoes – stored both in the original packaging and loose, and at different temperatures.

The charity subsequently found that selling the five items loose and removing date labels could result in a combined saving of around 100,000 tonnes of household food waste, more than 10,300 tonnes of plastic, and 130,000 tonnes of CO2e. This saving, WRAP states, comes from both enabling people to buy the right amount for their needs, and to use their judgement to decide when items are still good to eat.

Findings also highlight the importance of helping customers understand the benefits of storing appropriate fresh produce in the fridge, set at the right temperature. When stored at 4°C, apples showed no signs of spoilage until two and a half months after their ‘best before’ date and were still good to eat for some time after that. Broccoli showed no signs of deterioration until more than two weeks after the ‘best before’ date.

The outcome of the report has prompted WRAP to reiterate its call for the removal of ‘best before’ dates from fresh uncut produce wherever possible. Findings have been shared with the UK’s largest food retailers, along with key recommendations.

In the coming months, the charity is set to consult with the Food Standards Agency, Defra and industry over the recommendations, as well as updating Best Practice guidance, developing a pathway for more fresh uncut produce to be sold loose.

Marcus Gover, CEO WRAP, said: “This important research could be a game-changer in the fight against food waste and plastic pollution. We have demystified the relationship between wasted food, plastic packaging, date labels and food storage.

“While packaging is important and often carries out a critical role to protect food, we have proven that plastic packaging doesn’t necessarily prolong the life of uncut fresh produce. It can in fact increase food waste in this case. We have shown the massive potential to save good food from being thrown away by removing date labels.

“We are all living with the reality of the climate emergency and the rising cost of living. This new clarity could not be more timely. We need retailers to step up and follow our recommendations so we can achieve real progress in tackling food waste and plastic pollution. This helps save the planet and us money at the same time – a real win-win.”

Responding to the report, Sian Sutherland, A Plastic Planet co-founder, commented: “Finally some sanity in the crazy nanny-state world of food retailing. Six years ago, we launched the Plastic Free Aisle in Amsterdam. That’s 6 years of feet-dragging from UK supermarkets, continuing to default to plastic to wrap fruit and vegetables that Nature already gave a protective layer.

“Finally we call out the billions of plastic sachets that infect our environment. Finally people can buy what they want rather than the multipacks they are sold. And finally we can see the madness of best before and consume by labels that tell us nothing our noses don’t already know and contaminate food waste and compost.”

UK Plastics Pact recommendations

Also published today is an updated list of key plastic items for UK Plastics Pact members to remove as far as possible by the end of 2022. The additional items are:

Plastic wrapping for multi-sales of tins, bottles, and cartons
PVC cling film
Non-compostable fruit and veg stickers
Non-compostable tea and coffee bags
Single-use/single-serving plastic sachets/jiggers in restaurant settings
Plastic packaging for uncut fresh fruit and vegetables unless demonstrated to reduce food waste, as a longer-term goal