Binning the plastic bag – the future of fresh produce mapped out

Research from WRAP published last year showed the significant potential that removing plastic packaging from fresh uncut fruit and veg could have on reducing plastic packaging and food waste at home. Since then, WRAP has been working with retailers on an ambitious pathway that will change the way we shop and help reduce the 70,000 tonnes of plastics put on the market every year, around fresh produce items.

Catherine David, Director of Collaboration and Change, WRAP: “No good food should go in the bin. We’re very excited to be working with the UK’s leading retailers to reduce the amount of food wasted in people’s homes, and eliminate unnecessary single use plastics, by selling more fruit and veg loose.

It’s time to liberate fruit and veg from plastic packaging! People throw away £3.8bn worth of edible fruit and veg each year – this is a cost neither we nor our planet can afford. The evidence is clear – now it’s time to action. We look forward to consigning apples in plastic bags to the history books. And the Pathway we are publishing today shows how we will work with the retailers to help this happen.”

The principle of WRAP’s pathway is towards the longer-term objective of selling loose and only loose, while recognising the many challenges to be overcome to achieve this. Minimum interim targets have been set which retailers are encouraged to go beyond. The biggest selling fresh produce items should be focussed on, while aiming to reach the targets by displaying loose fresh produce prominently and attractively, with pricing to be reasonable and comparable to the packed alternative.

In 2021, around 15% of fruit and vegetables were sold loose. The ambitious targets would see this double to 30% by the end of 2025 and rise to 50% by the end of 2030. There is currently differences in availability of loose depending on the type of supermarket, mainly between convenience stores compared to superstores and whether they have till weighing capability. To provide consistency across the retail environment, all retailers are also being asked to sell a loose variety of the items listed below by the end of 2024.





















Salad tomatoes 


Defra minister Rebecca Pow “Nobody wants to see good food go to waste or add to the tide of plastic packaging which blights our streets and beautiful countryside.

“This ambitious new initiative will help to tackle both these issues and builds on recent government efforts in this area, including the introduction of a ban on commonly littered single-use plastic items, a deposit return scheme for drinks containers and extended producer responsibility for packaging.”

Kelly Shields, Regulation & Comms Manager at FPC FPC fully support the aspiration to reduce single use plastic in the fresh produce sector where it is safe and appropriate to do so.  The Wrap led plastic reduction journey, ahead of GB legislative requirements, shows pro-active commitment from the fresh produce industry. 

Our industry historically has a ‘can do’ and open-minded approach to problem solving in fast moving commercial environments and it is anticipated that this collaborative approach means progress can be made in a sustainable and measured manner throughout the supply chain to minimise the use of plastic and reduce waste and emissions.  The Wrap Pathway enables a framework for such an approach.”

Paula Chin, Senior Policy Adviser on Consumption at WWF, “Eliminating unnecessary packaging from our food – for example by selling whole fruit and veg loose, where it doesn’t increase food waste – is a key step to drive down the environmental impacts of our food system, but progress to date has been too slow.  

“While the food retail sector has managed to increase the use of recycled content in packaging and improve the recyclability of packaging overall in recent years, we now need to see rapid action to bring down the overall quantity of packaging used, underpinned by an overarching resource efficiency target; we welcome WRAP’s Pathway to help the sector tackle this.”

WRAP emphasises that the Pathway is the start of the journey, and that there are many challenges to be overcome for the successful implementation of these changes. The international climate action NGO continues to collaborate and work with retailers on these, which include in-store infrastructure, online shopping, seasonal produce, supply chains currently being set up for items to be packed and engaging with shoppers to buy loose in favour of pre-packed.

This ambition supports the targets of the UK Plastics Pact, which is driving the goal of circularity for plastic packaging including the elimination of problematic and unnecessary plastic by 2025. Plastic packaging around uncut fresh produce was added to the list for elimination in February 2022. It also supports the Courtauld Commitment 2030 targets to reduce food waste by 50%.

WRAP are continuing to collaborate with the retailers to address the barriers and will be monitoring their progress against the targets through annual reporting.

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