This is what Coles and Woolworths need to do to cut waste

Supermarket giants are gearing up to tackle the nation’s waste crisis, ditching single-use shopping bags in Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia.

But a waste management expert is calling for Australia’s biggest supermarkets to take further action in the waging war on plastic and food waste.

Dr Trevor Thornton, a lecturer in Deakin’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences, praised retailers like Coles and Woolworths for taking steps to combat waste reduction. But he said there’s still a long way to go.

“I’m glad to see Coles’ commitment to examine its packaging before the Federal Environment Minister’s deadline of 2025, when all packaging produced in Australia must be reusable, combustible, or recyclable,” Dr Thornton said.

“It would be good to see other supermarkets follow suit, with a process to identify items that are over-packaged or packaged with composite materials (that then makes the packaging non-recyclable), and then set a requirement that these issues be resolved well before that 2025 deadline.”

Dr Thornton insists there are plenty of simple steps the supermarkets can take to reduce landfill and improve their environmental footprint. These include:

  • Remove stickers on some fruit
  • Ensure packaged items with low environmental impact are in more visible areas in the store
  • Place packaged items with low environmental impact in visible positions in the store.
  • Investigate the removal of polystyrene packaging
  • Introduce a ‘green’ aisle to promote sustainable products
  • Publish accurate data on the waste and energy reductions made as a result of the introduced changes
  • Require each store to contribute funds to a local environmental initiative
  • Allow shoppers to easily share their ideas or concerns about the environment
  • Advise suppliers that stores will promote products packed with recycle material

What are supermarkets already doing?

Dr Thornton’s plea comes as social media and environmental groups continue to push retailers to take more environmentally conscious steps, including scrapping plastic packaging from bananas and bunched vegetables like kale and silver beet.

In a bid to improve their environmental footprint, some of Australia’s major supermarket chains have already pledged to introduce a number of initiatives aimed to reduce food waste, landfill and plastic packaging over the next few years.

Coles recently announced plans to halve food waste and make all its home brand products recyclable by 2020. The retailer also announced it would turn away 90 per cent of all supermarket waste away from landfills. This includes food, cardboard and plastic.

Coles Managing Director, John Durak, previously agreed the need to take the issue seriously.

“We know that 69 per cent of customers say that we need to actively reduce waste and landfill through recyclable packaging and find alternative uses for waste,” Mr Durkan said.

The company’s initiatives also include allowing customers to play a part in transforming recyclable soft plastics into outdoor furniture and road base. Other commitments include ditching the packaging for meat and poultry products for recycled and renewable materials.

Woolworths similarly pledged to scrap straw sales by 2019 and remove packing from 80 different fruit and vegetable products. The retailer similarly plans on giving customers the option to return items with soft plastic items, including biscuit packets and frozen food bags, to be sent to its recycling partners.

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