Australian supermarkets urged to adopt UK's plastic-free aisle proposal

Environment groups have urged Australian supermarkets to follow in the United Kingdom's footsteps and adopt plastic-free aisles.

Soft plastics like shopping bags and biscuit packets are shredded before being turned into other products at Replas.

Soft plastics like shopping bags and biscuit packets are shredded before being turned into other products at Replas. Source: Supplied: Replas

Australian supermarkets have been urged to adopt plastic-free aisles after United Kingdom introduced the measure to curb plastic waste.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May's plan to eradicate avoidable plastic waste by 2042 also includes extending charges for plastic bags and investigating a tax on single-use takeaway containers. 

Clean Up Australia managing director Terrie-Ann Johnson called on the Australian government to set a similar target. 

"What we need is timelines to force innovation, so if we have something to work towards, we can then work towards it. So it's great to see that leadership," Ms Johnson said. 

From June this year, major supermarket chains will stop handing out single-use plastic bags.

Environment groups are now turning their attention to packaging, calling on supermarket brands to set an example by avoiding plastic in their own lines.

"As you'll see when you walk down the aisles, a lot of the products are their own brands so they can actually influence how those are packaged," Ms Johnson said.

She cited potato-based wrapping as an alternative.

"There are all sorts of starch-based plastics available so they look like plastic and they feel like plastic, they've got a slightly sticky feel at the moment, the film is certainly available at the moment," Ms Johnson said.

The paper industry also says plastic-free aisles easily achievable with sustainable fibre packaged products on the shelves. 

"They can do all the things that plastic has ever done and much, much more - like for example showing if they've been tampered with or showing if the temperature has changed in the packaging," Australian Forest Products Association CEO Ross Hampton said.

Supermarkets silent on plastic-free aisle proposal

Supermarket chains did not comment directly on the idea of plastic-free aisles.

Instead Woolworths says it is trialling reducing plastic packaging for 28 fresh fruit and vegetable lines with an aim to remove 150 tonnes per year.

Coles says it is actively working with suppliers on more sustainable options.

As for its own water bottles, they were made out of recycled plastic.

Meanwhile ALDI said it was using recyclable plastic crates to display fresh produce, soft drinks and vegetable oil.

Wheel stops produced by Replas from recycled soft plastics.
Source: Supplied: Replas

Recycling more effective

While some concentrate on eliminating plastics, recycling company Replas wants to get its hands on more. 

The Victorian company turns 60 tonnes of soft plastics like shopping bags and frozen food packs each week into park benches and bollards.

Replas Victorian territory manager Kelvin Agg says banning types of plastic from supermarket shelves is not the answer to the global waste problem. 

"We'll ban one substance or material and another one's created and used. So as far as consumption, it makes more sense to work out a way to turn all this waste into a resource," he told SBS News.

Replas hopes to increase the amount saved from landfill but its plans are limited by the demand for the end result.

Published 12 January 2018 at 8:19pm, updated 12 January 2018 at 8:31pm
By Rosemary Bolger