Hong Kong supermarket selling strawberries individually wrapped for HK$168 as pressure grows to reduce packaging

It’s like something out of Mad Max, says campaigner against excessive use of plastic wrapping for fruit and vegetables, as petition against the practice circulates

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 February, 2017, 6:16pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 February, 2017, 12:26pm

A Hong Kong supermarket is selling individually wrapped strawberries at a time when a petition is circulating calling on supermarkets to reduce the use of plastic.

With a tag “Fresh by Air From Japan”, one premium Kotoka strawberry is being sold in a straw nest in a plastic-covered paper box with a Styrofoam “sock” for a staggering HK$168 at City'super in Causeway Bay.

This month a Change.org petition was launched, calling on Hong Kong supermarkets to stop the excessive use of plastic.

Petition organiser Lisa Odell, founder of Plastic-Free HK, a retailer that sells sustainably designed products, says the use of plastic in supermarkets is “unnecessary and excessive”. The petition has more than 7,000 supporters and aims to get 100,000 signatures. “We have translated the petition into Chinese to reach a wider audience,” Odell said.

Doug Woodring, co-founder of Ocean Recovery Alliance, says the Styrofoam “socks” used to wrap fruit and vegetables are being found all over Hong Kong beaches.

“There are 270 Wellcome stores in Hong Kong, and if you assume that 500 of these ‘socks’ are sold each day, when you do the maths, that means 83 tonnes of material is created each year. This is equivalent to more than the weight of seven double-decker buses. Stretched back-to-back these ‘socks’ would stretch from Hong Kong to the Maldives every year.

“The petition is a nice opportunity for retailers to do something proactive for the communities they serve.”

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This week conservation activist Gary Stokes launched #trashthecheckout, a campaign pressuring supermarkets to be responsible in their choice of suppliers when it comes to excessive plastic packaging.

“On the consumer side we can only do so much, so it’s up to the supermarkets to stop dealing with suppliers who continue to engage in excessive packaging,” says Stokes, who is Asia director for the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

“We are saying we don’t want it in plastic and it’s time they [the supermarkets] listened,” says Stokes, who has compiled images from various supermarkets showing which produce can be sold without plastic packaging.

“That one heavily packaged strawberry sold in a box in City'super reminds me of something out of Mad Max – like it’s the last strawberry on Earth. It’s ridiculous.

“Market Place by Jasons has plastic-wrapped coconuts with a Styrofoam sock – this excessive packaging must end.”

In response to the campaigns, Wellcome said it is committed to supporting and protecting the environment.

“We are continually making efforts to minimise unnecessary packaging, while at the same time ensuring that our produce is of the highest quality, hygiene and freshness.

“Much of the packaging that you see in stores is directly applied by our suppliers. These suppliers wrap food to reduce damage during delivery and keep it fresher, longer. We are conscientious of the food waste issue in Hong Kong, and of the need to protect the health and safety of shoppers. For these reasons, we do wrap some foods in order to preserve quality, hygiene and freshness. Operational needs, having to do with barcode scans and special offers, for example, also require that some foods be packaged. Nevertheless, once the produce arrives at Wellcome, we avoid any unnecessary packaging before shelving the items.”

Wellcome says it is working with suppliers to reduce use of packaging.

“In our own operations and in conversations with our suppliers, we are working to source alternative, environmentally safe packaging materials.”

City'super had not responded to requests for comment about its packaging policies, and specifically about its individually packaged strawberries, by the time of publication.

Hong Kong, ditch the plastic packaging already

Supermarkets around the globe are taking steps to reduce plastic use.

Dutch fruit and vegetable supplier Nature & More and Swedish supermarket ICA are trialling a system to replace sticky labels on organic avocados and sweet potatoes with a laser mark. Britain’s M&S is using it on coconuts.

Berlin supermarket Original Unverpackt (“originally unpackaged”) has a zero-waste, no-packaging policy (shoppers bring their own containers and stock up on generic brand products), which is proving popular with consumers.

The amount of waste dumped in the city’s overflowing landfills last year rose for the fifth year in a row with the bulk of it still from households, according to government data.

Woodring says while this waste might be from households, most of this is food waste which originates from supermarkets. “People do not have the options to buy fresh produce that is not overwrapped, so it is wrong to assume this is the fault of the consumers – it is the fault, and responsibility of those selling the products in ways which are wasteful.