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The world's first plastic-free supermarket aisle opens

The world’s first plastic-free supermarket aisle

A supermarket chain in the Netherlands is testing a totally plastic-free aisle in one of its stores. Over 700 products, from meat to sauces will be packaged in plastic-free alternatives. Are we starting to see the dawn of a plastic-free world in food and drink retail?

Ekoplaza, the Dutch supermarket chain, has installed a plastic-free aisle in its Amsterdam store, becoming, it's thought, the first supermarket to do so. Instead of wrapping products in plastic, it’s testing innovative, compostable biomaterials - alongside traditional materials, like glass, metal and cardboard.

Consumers will be able to find most of their regular fresh and larder products in the aisle, over 700 products in total. And if the aisle proves a success, Ekoplaza will roll out the concept across its 74 branches. Will this prove to be a significant milestone in the global battle against plastic waste?

Consumer backing for plastic-free packaging

Although plastic still covers 37% of all food sold in Europe, global concern about plastic waste is pushing food and drink retailers to rethink current packaging practices.

A recent poll by consumer research company, Populus, found 91% of shoppers supported the idea of a plastic-free aisle. While 81% were concerned about the amount of plastic packaging thrown away in the UK.

This explains why more investment is being made in finding sustainable alternatives for plastic use in the food and drink industry.

Plastic-free in the UK

Many retailers here are already planning a future without plastic. Iceland has pledged to be plastic-free by 2023. While supermarket giant, Asda, recently announced it’s removing plastic wrapping from all its whole swedes.

The retailer sells around 6 million swedes each year, so doing away with plastic packaging would result in a reduction of around 14 tonnes of plastic waste.

Plastic-free movement in Scotland

Scottish households produce around 120,000 tonnes of plastic packaging waste each year. To combat this plastic waste deluge, Zero Waste Scotland aims to recycle 70% of all plastic waste by 2025. And has set up a £1 million fund inviting proposals from firms who can actively find ways to cut packaging.

Locavore, Glasgow’s new plastic-free store opened earlier this year, thanks to some of this Zero Waste Scotland funding. It offers a range of ‘fill your own’ plastic-free products including: milk in refillable glass bottles, locally-made shampoo, herbs, pulses, nuts, grains, oil and vinegar, as well as household cleaning products and even popcorn.

Two other food retailers in Scotland, the New Leaf Co-Op in Edinburgh and FoodStory in Aberdeen, also offer a loose-food shopping experience.

Growth opportunities

Although most consumers welcome the idea of plastic-free aisles in supermarkets and the growth of other plastic-free food retailers, there are cost implications. Is the consumer willing to pay them?

Also, some in the packaging industry point to problems with retailers going packaging-free - raising issues like transport, hygiene, shelf life and labelling. On top of that, the increasing trend towards convenience and on-the-go-food, as well as the rise of online shopping, is more likely to result in an increase of packaging material.

Using innovation to solve these issues is the way manufacturers, retailers and consumers can pursue a more environmentally-friendly approach to packaging. And understanding the plastic-free market is key. 

Innovation support for Scottish food and drink companies

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