Woman in mask shops for fruit and veg sold without packaging

No plastic packaging – sell fresh uncut produce loose, says WRAP report

23 February 2022

  • New research and recommendations from WRAP signal the end of unnecessary plastic packaging and Best Before labels on a wide range of fresh uncut fruit and vegetables in the UK.
  • Evidence shows that selling fresh produce loose and removing date labels could prevent 14 million shopping baskets worth of food from going to waste and 1,100 rubbish trucks of avoidable plastic simply by allowing people to buy what they need.
  • WRAP calls for removal of more unnecessary and problematic single use plastic items under The UK Plastics Pact, including wrapping on multi-packs of tinned food and sauce sachets in restaurants. 

New research sees global NGO WRAP challenge the status quo of the way retailers sell fresh uncut fruit and vegetables, highlighting that it should change significantly in the future.

Changes ahead

An 18-month project conducted by WRAP, with input from industry, to examine the link between food waste in the home and the use of plastic packaging, has challenged accepted thinking that packaging helps to preserve fresh produce. In fact, it shows that selling loose has huge potential to reduce food waste in our homes. The research also examined the influence of date labels and storage temperatures on food going to waste.

WRAP is now calling on the UK’s major retailers to rethink how they sell uncut fresh produce with three key recommendations:

  • Sell loose – where possible, unless it is shown that plastic packaging reduces overall food waste.
  • Remove date labels - unless it can be shown that a Best Before reduces overall food waste.
  • Refrigerate below 5°C at home – Help your customers understand the benefits of storing appropriate fresh produce in the fridge, set at the right temperature.

Marcus Gover, CEO WRAP, “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.”

WRAP tested five commonly wasted items (apples, bananas, broccoli, cucumber and potatoes) stored in the original packaging and loose and at different temperatures. The charity found that selling the five loose and removing Best Before dates 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 comes from both enabling people to buy the right amount for their needs (potatoes, bananas and apples) and to use their judgement to decide when items are still good to eat.

While most supermarkets already sell some items loose, the new research presents compelling evidence for significantly increasing the practice across a wide range of fresh fruit and vegetables.

A chilling opportunity

The research also confirmed a point WRAP has long promoted - that uncut fresh produce can be good to eat long after the Best Before date and most lasts longer in the fridge. When stored at 4°C, apples, for example, showed no signs of deterioration 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 power of a date label

These new findings have prompted WRAP to reiterate its call (made in 2019) for the removal of Best Before dates from fresh uncut produce wherever possible.

The results of WRAP’s work have been shared with UK’s largest food retailers, along with the key recommendations. Whilst keen for its recommendations to be implemented, the charity acknowledges that this move is likely to take time and requires the whole sector to work together - and bring citizens on the journey too. In the coming months, WRAP will continue to consult with the Food Standards Agency, Defra and industry over the recommendations as well as updating Best Practice guidance, and to develop a pathway for more fresh uncut produce to be sold loose.

Plastic elimination ramps up

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,

and as a longer term goal;

  • Plastic packaging for uncut fresh fruit and vegetables unless demonstrated to reduce food waste

Since 2018 when The Pact was launched, members have reported a 46% progress in reducing specific problematic plastic items and a 10% reduction in plastic packaging overall. 

Notes to Editor

  1. Sell loose – where possible, unless it is shown that plastic packaging reduces overall food waste for a particular item, such as protecting soft fruits during their retail journey.
  2. Remove date labels - Do not apply a date label to uncut fresh produce – unless it can be shown that a Best Before date reduces overall food waste (and do not use any alternative wording to 'Best Before' when a date label is applied). An example could be where product life is short, even when stored in optimum conditions – such as berries.
  3. Refrigerate below 5°C at home – Help your customers understand the benefits of storing appropriate fresh produce in the fridge, set at the right temperature. Use product or on-shelf labelling, customer engagement and marketing to increase the proportion of people who store fresh produce in the fridge below 5°C.

WRAP is working with retailers and the sector through the Courtauld Commitment 2030 and The UK Plastics Pact and will consult with the sector to update Best Practice Guidance

  • The Courtauld Commitment 2030 is a voluntary agreement that enables collaborative action across the entire UK food chain to deliver farm-to-fork reductions in food waste, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and water stress that will help the UK food and drink sector achieve global environmental goals.
  • The UK Plastics Pact brings together businesses from across the entire plastics value chain with UK governments and NGOs to tackle the scourge of plastic waste. It is creating a circular economy for plastics, capturing their value by keeping them in the economy and out of the natural environment. Pact members will eliminate problematic plastics reducing the total amount of packaging on supermarket shelves, stimulate innovation and new business models and help build a stronger recycling system in the UK. Together we will ensure that plastic packaging is designed so it can be easily recycled and made into new products and packaging and, with the support of governments, ensure consistent UK recycling is met.
  • WRAP is a global NGO based in the UK. It is one of the UK’s top 5 environmental charities and works with governments, businesses, and individuals to ensure that the world’s natural resources are used more sustainably. It is the charity leading The UK Plastics Pact (a world first), Courtauld Commitment 2030, Textiles 2030 as well as the citizen campaigns Love Food Hate Waste, Love Your Clothes, Clear on Plastics and Recycle Now. WRAP works collaboratively and develops and delivers evidence-based solutions to reduce the environmental cost of the food we eat, the clothes we wear and the plastic packaging we use. Founded in 2000 in the UK, WRAP now works around the world and is a Global Alliance Partner of The Royal Foundation’s Earthshot Prize.
  • For further information or to request an interview: contact Ian Palmer Media Relations Manager, [email protected] 07802 873 431 www.wrap.org.uk