In an Amsterdam supermarket, a new “plastic-free” aisle is a microcosm of the entire store. It’s possible to buy around 700 items–meat, sauces, produce, yogurt, snacks, cereal, drinks, enough for a week’s worth of groceries–but nothing is packaged in conventional plastic. Any package that looks like regular plastic is bio-based and compostable; everything else is packaged in a material, like aluminum or glass, that is easily recyclable.
What would it take for mainstream supermarkets to shift completely away from standard plastic packaging?
At a standard grocery store, where plastic is ubiquitous, wrapped around everything from pre-made sandwiches and steak to, in some cases, individual potatoes or bell peppers (and found in less obvious places, like the lining of a carton of soy milk), a shift to no packaging at all seems unlikely in the near future.
While the shift isn’t easy for a store, there’s no reason it isn’t technically possible now. The need to package some foods in typical plastic–for food safety, or to help food last longer and prevent food waste–can be satisfied with compostable materials made from things like plant starch, or even food waste itself.
A larger shift, to a store with no conventional plastic packaging, may also be possible if the brands that supply stores feel the same pressure from consumers. In 2017, Unilever committed to making all of its plastic packaging recyclable, reusable, or compostable by 2025. But even if every plastic package in a store could be composted, there’s still a challenge: the packaging has to be processed in industrial composting facilities, and those aren’t yet widespread. If people can’t easily compost the packages, they’ll still end up in the trash.
Read the more about a plastic-free grocery store by Adele Peters at Fast Company.
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