New Zealand supermarket chain Countdown has invested NZ$500,000 in shelving, packaging and production changes for its 10-week trial to remove plastic produce bags and a tonne of other plastic in three of its stores.

Countdown, part of the Woolworths Group portfolio of brands, will conduct the trial in its Orewa, Ponsonby and Manukau stores from 10 February.

The new Unwrapped food and vegetable section will see 65 products no longer in their usual plastic wrap or pack, with the introduction of new, specially-designed paper and cardboard packaging in stores.

Plastic produce bags will be removed and replaced by paper bags for bulk foods, as customers are also encouraged to use their own reusable bags.

Products, such as bagged lettuce and herb portions, will remain in plastic due to “lack of sustainable alternatives”, while the stores will aim to source plastic packaging made from PET or rPET, as well as all ensuring recyclability of soft plastics in all Unwrapped stores.

Countdown general manager corporate affairs, safety and sustainability, Kiri Hannifin said the $500,000 investment had to be made to show the company was serious about reducing the use of plastic in the future.

“As part of Unwrapped we want to test whether the changes we’re making can be sustained over the long-term and in a way that delivers better outcomes for our environment here in Aotearoa,” said Hannifin.

“We’re mindful that packaging or process changes might cause bigger issues so we need to understand this a lot better before we roll something out nationwide. For example, without packaging some products might deteriorate far faster, causing food waste – that’s something we absolutely want to avoid because of the detrimental impact food waste can have on the environment.”

Hannifin said the company will monitor food waste very closely to ensure one issue is not replaced by another.

Countdown has reduced its plastic reduction over the years by phasing out single-use shopping bags,  removing 150 tonnes of plastic from produce and introducing BYO containers nationwide.

“Unwrapped will change the way our customers shop for ten weeks, but their feedback could have a long-lasting impact on how all New Zealanders shop in the future and help guide our next steps,” Hannifin said.

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