One reason Aldi plastic-wraps so much
THE plastic shaming of supermarkets continues unabated but this time it's Aldi, rather than Coles and Woolies in the spotlight.
That's despite Aldi never having stocked free plastic bags in Australia. But it's not carrier bags where the German giant is getting roasted - it's plastic-wrapped fruit and veg.
All the supermarkets are guilty of having some fresh produce wrapped in cling film and sitting on plastic trays. However at Aldi there seems to be more plastic and less loose.
Critics have said it could be a side effect of the firm's lean and mean business model that keeps prices down. Aldi told news.com.au it was committed to minimising plastic but didn't deny its widespread use was to make its stores more efficient - and that helps the firm's bottom line.
Highlighting what they see as the unnecessary use of plastics in the fresh produce section, the disgruntled shoppers head into supermarkets, fill up with fruit and veg and, after paying, discard all the packaging at the checkout in a heap.
Unimpressed anti-plastic campaigner Anita Horan took Reucassel to her local Aldi.
"So we have two types of cut celery both sealed in plastic and I don't see any loose celery, at all so they are forcing you to buy plastic," she said.
Ms Horan found a plastic pack of three avocadoes sold right next to identical loose avocados. She said the bulk buy packs had another unwanted consequence: "A lot of people say it increases your food waste because you have to buy half a kilo and I might only want a few grams."
HUSKS REMOVED, PLASTIC ADDED
But the biggest gripe was corn cobs. At Aldi, the corn's natural packaging, the husk, had been removed, only to then be sold wrapped in plastic.
"All of these things could be bought loose," Ms Horan said.
Reucassel reckoned he had the answer as to why so much of Aldi's fresh produce was in plastic. "I bet this is about being quick at the till. They don't care about (the plastic) and then that pile at the end was enormous."
Certainly, one of the secrets to Aldi's success has been its obsession with efficiency and cutting unnecessary costs, be that having a tighter range of mostly own brands, a lack of free plastic bags or those massive bar codes that speed up scanning by a fraction of a second.
Aldi Australia head Tom Daunt has admitted packaging up fruit and veg, rather than having it loose, makes the firm's life easier.
"It adds a tiny amount of incremental cost to add packaging but it keeps the product fresher and it keeps customer's hands off," he told Nine last year. Plastic cartons are also easier to stack on shelves while scanning the pack at the register is quicker than weighing. Aldi told news.com.au the plastic was partly to provide "a more efficient checkout experience".
And the more people you can get through each till, the fewer staff you need, and wages are a big cost for any company.
Aldi certainly isn't the only supermarket with a penchant for plastic. War On Waste's plastic attackers also visited Woolworths and threw away a fair bit of wrap there too.
But there was a key difference - in Woolies, as well as Coles, you generally have the choice not to buy produce in plastic.
News.com.au visited a Sydney Aldi store. Certainly there is loose produce on display. We saw apples, tomatoes, avocadoes, lemons, pears, bananas, celery, broccoli, eggplant and sweet potato all without plastic. However almost all of these items could also be bought in a plastic container.
But other fresh produce could only be bought wrapped. This included zucchini, leeks, green beans, sweet corns, potatoes and carrots.
Lebanese cucumbers were only available in bulk laying on a plastic tray covered in film. Three different types of mushrooms in plastic could be found, but none out of plastic. One crate overflowed with iceberg lettuces, yet each head was sealed in its own plastic bag.
'EFFICIENT CHECKOUT EXPERIENCE'
At a nearby Coles store, in contrast, every one of these products was available packaging-free, though some items, such as leeks, also had a bagged option alongside the loose.
The big two have been questioned for packaging up organic products, to differentiate them from non-organic. However, they have increasingly moving these items to cardboard packs. Coles has also been called out for bringing out a range of free miniature plastic toys mimicking popular products just as their own plastic bag ban came into place.
The only fresh produce wrapped in both Coles and Aldi were softer items such as herbs and berries.
An Aldi spokeswoman told news.com.au the company was looking to minimise its environmental impact.
"We are actively focused on reducing our reliance on plastics. As a first step, we are working to improve packaging solutions that include greater use of recyclables and recycled content.
"The packaging of our fresh produce helps with the product quality and preservation as well as the efficiency of our operations. For example, the packaging protects the product, extends its shelf life (in store and at home for customers) and enables a more efficient checkout experience."
The company said it would continue to try and balance in-store efficiency with environmental concerns.
"We are working towards improving our practices and will continue to reduce our reliance on packaging. Over the coming years our customers can expect to see changes in our stores that reflect our commitment to protecting the environment."