Waste disposal experts are calling on policymakers to ban plastic stickers on fruit in a move that could prevent 100 million pieces of plastic waste ending up in landfill each week in the UK.
According to Great British Apples, around 122,000 metric tons of apples are eaten each year in Britain, while approximately 29 million individual apples are sold each week.
Combined with other fruit commonly adorned with a sticker, such as bananas, avocados and pears, over 100 million stickers are discarded weekly.
Business Waste and waste disposal and recycling experts say the cumulative waste of individual fruit stickers is “a completely unnecessary addition to landfill.”
“It’s quite literally a fruitless waste,” explains Mark Hall, spokesperson for Business Waste. “These stickers are removed immediately, thrown in the bin or littered in parks on picnics, and they find their way to landfill.”
“Fruit has its own packaging as provided by Mother Nature – why on earth do we find it necessary to pop a bit of plastic on to make a healthy snack into an environmental hazard?”
Adult consumers agree
In a Business Waste street survey of 2600 people, the overwhelming majority (94%) agreed fruit stickers are unnecessary.
“They get everywhere,” remarked mum-of-two Anna, 34. “If it’s not on the dog or the kitchen counters, they’re on the kids’ clothes, and then they end up on the floor or clogging up my washing machine and dishwasher, so they’re a nightmare.”
However, Anna’s daughter Ruby, 5, disagreed: “I got two stickers on my apple at nursery. I thought it good,” she said.
Besides being a hit with nursery school children, the sentiment is clear – stickers on fruit are a waste of time, Business Waste concludes. So why do they exist?
The world-famous Pink Lady apple is a great example: its heart-shaped sticker has become iconic, reassuring consumers they are purchasing the sweet snack they’ve come to associate with the brand.
This marketing clearly works, as Pink Lady sold £25 million (US$35 million) worth of apples following a TV advertising campaign.
Ingenious ideas have been suggested to tackle the issue, including edible barcodes printed on fruit’s skin. In the UK, this idea has not yet become mainstream.
However, in the Netherlands, supermarket chain Jumbo launched a “natural label” on a selection of its organic vegetables range in 2018, moving the technology into the mainstream.
“When you see Morrisons selling a single banana – a fruit that comes in its own protective skin – in a non-recyclable tray with single-use wrap, you know we’ve reached an unnecessary level of packaging,” Hall continues.
“Fruit stickers aren’t biodegradable, can’t be recycled, and do nothing that signage around the shelves or options on the tills for checkout workers couldn’t do.”
“Fruit is brilliant and we aren’t discouraging that – we should all be getting our ‘five a day’ – but we urge retailers and produce growers to innovate and find new ways to market their products.”
However, not all fruit stickers are necessarily pointless. Seattle-based start-up StixFresh has developed a sticker capable of keeping fruit and vegetables fresh for up to two weeks longer than usual.
When applied to the fruit, the all-natural compound contained on the sticker creates a protective layer increasing shelf life, reducing food waste at home or anywhere along the post-harvest supply chain.
PackagingInsights recently explored the fruit and vegetable sector’s key packaging themes with leading suppliers DS Smith, Smurfit Kappa, Sealpac, Mondi, and edible coating specialist Sufresca.
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