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26 January 2020: Woolworths Group’s New Zealand supermarket Countdown will remove plastic produce bags and more than a tonne of other plastic from three of its stores in a new 10 week trial to see if it can further reduce plastic long-term.

From February 10, customers at Countdown Orewa, Ponsonby and Manukau will get to try a new-look ‘Unwrapped’ fruit and veg section, with a lot less plastic and a lot more loose produce, as well as brand new, specially-designed paper and cardboard packaging. 

Sixty-five products will be ‘unwrapped’ from their usual plastic wrap or pack, and plastic produce bags will also be removed with customers encouraged to use reusable bags. Paper bags will also replace plastic bags for bulk foods. 

Countdown’s General Manager Corporate Affairs, Safety and Sustainability, Kiri Hannifin, says the company has invested more than $500,000 in shelving, packaging and production changes for the test, but it’s an investment that has to be made if they are serious about reducing the use of plastic in the future.

“Like all Kiwis, we are incredibly passionate about the environment and reducing the amount of plastic and packaging in our produce section is something we, along with our customers, are keen to see.  Unwrapped gives us a chance to give some new things a go with our growers and packhouses. We’re really excited about how these stores will look and feel for our customers and team.

“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. 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.  We don’t want to replace one issue with another and as such we need to monitor food waste very closely,” says Kiri Hannifin.

“Ultimately our customers also have to love shopping with us - changes need to be easy, convenient and better for the environment at the same time.  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.”

Throughout the 10 week test, Countdown will be talking to its customers and team to understand opinions on the changes, as well as measuring a range of factors.  While some products, such as bagged lettuce and herb portions, will remain in plastic due to a lack of suitable alternatives, where possible any plastic packaging provided is made from PET or rPET which can be recycled and used over and over again. Soft plastics can also be recycled at each of the Unwrapped stores.

Countdown phased out single-use plastic shopping bags in October 2018, and over the last few years has focused on a programme to reduce unnecessary plastic and packaging, including removing 150 tonnes of plastic from produce and introducing BYO containers nationwide.