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Farmers need support from the supermarkets and government to reduce plastic packaging on their produce, says Victorian vegetable grower, Natasha Shields.

Supplying two supermarket chains and wholesale markets in Victoria, NSW and Queensland has allowed the Shields family to expand their Peninsula Fresh Organics business, but it has also created a plastic problem for the family-run business.

“As an organic and family farming business, it’s a priority for me and my husband Wayne to take care of the environment, including by reducing waste,” Shields says.

“Supermarkets, other retailers and some wholesalers require fresh fruit and vegetables to be wrapped in plastic for hygiene, shelf-life and logistics reasons. And Covid-19 has made the preference for wrapped or packaged fresh produce all the stronger.”

This dilemma drove Shields to travel from Baxter on the Mornington Peninsula across the world to find alternatives to plastic packaging, such as bioplastics and misting systems in supermarkets.

Thanks to a Nuffield Scholarship, supported by The William Buckland Foundation, Shields travelled to Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and North America to see the latest innovations.

What excited Shields the most during her travels is a bioplastic that is made from food waste by Danish start-up Cellugy, called Ecoflexy.

“It’s awesome, it’s made from food waste and can break down in a normal home garden in four weeks, providing nutrients to your own plants,” Shields says.

“But it’s not as simple as farmers switching out existing plastic wrap for bioplastic. There is no silver bullet to our industry’s plastic problem.

“Some retailers and wholesalers won’t accept bioplastic packaging for fresh produce. And even if that changed, we still need to do a lot of work as a society to make sure bioplastics are recycling properly.”

According to Shields, it is crucial to educate consumers and standardise labelling.

“We need support from government and retailers, especially supermarkets who have such a strong connection to a large number of consumers, and ultimately, we need the support from consumers to win the war on waste,” Shields concludes.

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