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When did WRAP become an anti-plastic organisation?

Before doubting the legitimacy of this question, please read the following;

'We are on a mission to protect our planet by bringing down food waste and tackling the scourge of plastic pollution', Marcus Gover CEO WRAP.

A scourge, according to Oxford English dictionary, is ‘a person or thing causing suffering.’ This quote is an exerpt from WRAP's latest report, ‘Reducing Household Food Waste and Plastic Packaging.’ This report, which WRAP claim is ground-breaking new research, also includes the comment that ‘reducing food waste and plastic pollution: - are two of the biggest environmental challenges of our lifetime’ – really!!

No one would argue that reducing food waste is one of the biggest environmental challenges of our lifetime, with some 35% (9.5m tonnes) of all food allegedly being thrown away in the UK, however, what about worldwide deforestation, floods, hurricanes, bush fires, 180m tonnes of toxic chemicals dumped in our oceans every year, etc? A further quote is ‘virgin plastics exacerbate climate change,’ as does every other packaging material, so why single out plastic?  

Whatever your views, these quotes hardly suggest that Mr Gover and his organisation are impartial or even have a balanced view of the use of plastic in packaging. Nevertheless, these sentiments would be totally understandable if indeed plastic was the dominant problem facing WRAP when considering their remit to reduce food and packaging waste. But the truth is, plastic is the least of Mr Gover’s packaging waste problems and it would appear Mr Gover needs to adopt a greater sense of perspective if he genuinely wants to accelerate the UK’s reduction of packaging waste.

He undoubtedly knows that the Environment Agency’s, packaging waste figures for 2021 show 10.2m tonnes of waste was handled within the governments PRN scheme. 1.93m tonnes of this was plastic waste, a total of 18.9%. The amount of packaging waste recycled was 7.27m tonnes, of which 1.14m tonnes was plastic 13.86%. This was a recycling rate for plastic of 59%. Much as we can criticise the plastic recycling rate for being ‘too low,’ surely the questions should be asked, 'why WRAP's main focus isn’t on reducing the 8.3m tonnes of packaging waste, 81% of which isn’t plastic?!'

The recent report from WRAP Reducing Household Food Waste and Plastic Packaging claims that;

100,000 tonnes of food waste would be saved

10,300 tonnes of plastic packaging would be saved

Plus 130,000 tonnes of CO₂ would be saved

Predominantly by removing the plastic packaging from apples, broccoli, potatoes, cucumber and bananas. This is described as being due to ‘ground-breaking research’ by WRAP and despite considering other factors such as;

  • Removing best before labels
  • Storing (all but bananas) in the fridge with temperatures lowered from 9 degrees to 5 degrees

Their conclusion was the 100,000 tonnes of food waste per annum and 130,000 of CO₂ was primarily due to customers not being able to buy small enough quantities of these items due to bulk packaging (pack sizes). This conclusion was reached from interviews and ‘modelling.’

So, I went down to the local Morrisons to see the bulk packaging problems for myself and found;

Apples were sold loose and in packs of 4

Potatoes were sold loose and in minimum packs of 4

Bananas were both loose and in minimum packs of 5

Broccoli was sold both loose and in packs of 200g

Cucumbers were not sold loose but in wrapped halves

In fact, every item which was sold could reasonably be bought in small packs used within 7-10 days by a single household. So, the idea that the packs are excessive is simply not true. But the question then must be, why wrap them at all?

Not surprisingly, virtually everyone I saw collecting loose broccoli, apples and even some bananas, put them in the paper bags provided. As these weigh more than double the plastic wrap, the packaging waste saving was nil, in fact just the reverse, greater waste was created. In addition, in 15 minutes I watched individuals who were handling apples looking for defects before putting them back and choosing alternatives. Interestingly, potatoes are also sold in 2.5kg family packs. How many paper bags would it take to carry 2.5kg of potatoes with each bag having to be individually weighed at the checkout?

This is a nightmare scenario for larger families with extra packaging, along with extra time at the checkouts, not to mention the transport and handling for the retailers.

It should also be added that on the fruit and produce purchased there were NO ‘best before date’ advice on the bananas and on the others, only ‘display until.’ As for the alleged 130,000 claimed as the saving in CO₂ – the 100,000 tonnes of plastic equates to around 22,000 tonnes of CO₂, however this would be exceeded by the billions of heavier extra paper bags used every year.

Similarly, even if the 130,000 tonnes of reduced CO₂ was accepted as credible, then this figure would need to be offset by the reduction in fridge temperatures of 4 degrees across 28 million UK households.

Finally, whilst WRAP was once a highly respected organisation, there is no doubt it has become more and more politicised. For example, we know plastic pouches have the most effective CO₂/weight to contents ratio of any packaging.

When have WRAP ever promoted plastic pouches?

Similarly, glass jars and bottles are up to 20-25 times higher packaging weight to content ratio than plastic, but when have WRAP ever condemned glass and promoted plastic?

The original Courtauld agreement was about reducing food and packaging waste along with ‘water stress.’ Yet paper and carton board, which is the fastest growing packaging material, takes some 7,000 gallons of water per tonne, even to recycle. When did WRAP ever criticise carton board packaging?

WRAP also threaten in the report that they will, quote, 'now monitor and report on retailers who use plastic packaging for fruit and veg', thus deliberately attempting to force them to inconvenience their customers whilst taking away the customers right to choose packed or unpacked produce. All this based on ground-breaking ‘research’ which is questionable to say the least.

In Summary

There is not enough evidence here to conclude that this is ‘ground-breaking research.’ It is predominantly a series of online questions and answers ‘modelled’ to produce the desired outcome, namely the removal of plastic packaging from the selected items. Please consider the following;

  • There were no ‘sell buy dates’ on any of the packs in Morrisons
  • Thus, their conclusion that their removal will reduce food waste and CO₂ is misleading.
  • The smallest packs of each of the items ‘researched’ are sufficiently small to last a single person 7-10 days, producing little or no food waste
  • The 10,000 tonnes of plastic packaging ‘saved’ would be more than offset by the much heavier paper bags used, thus, creating more, not less packaging waste
  • Similarly, the CO₂ generated to produce more than twice the amount of paper would be equal or more to that saved by eliminating the plastic
  • The lower the temperature of a fridge, the higher the energy demand. Thus, more CO₂ is created. This is not considered in any part of the ‘research.’

Thus, the conclusions are misleading.

All the products sold were both loose and in packs. Indeed, 50% of customers choose to buy loose but currently the customer (not WRAP) can make their choice. This ‘research’ is biased against choice for both the customer and the supermarket and should be resisted.

NB: National Flexible have little or no sales into these markets.

As ever, I welcome your views on any of the items raised. Please join me on LinkedIn for more discussions on these and similar subjects.




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Steven Pacitti

I have thought this for a while myself Barry...they have completely changed their tact and most of what I see from them now has an anti-plastic agenda.

Bernard Chase

Bang on as usual, Barry. WRAP is and always has been a QUANGO in the pocket of Government and thus in the business of policy based evidence making. In this case they merely seek to underscore what Government perceives to be a popular narrative. As an organisation they rarely check their privilege and have no comprehension of how time poor families cope with the harsh realities of daily life. Marcus Gover is way past his own sell by date and has always needed to get out more.

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