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Cucumber

Is shrink-wrap on a cucumber really mindless waste?

As everyone in the food industry knows, packaging is not necessarily evil, but an absolute necessity. A new book, “Why Shrink-wrap a Cucumber? The Complete Guide to Environmental Packaging”, unpacks various myths to show how, done well, packaging can please the planet as much as it can producers, retailers and consumers.

As the book explains, the miles of plastic used in the packaging cucumbers might seem unnecessary, and have been the subject of well-meaning anti-packaging campaigns (if an apple or a potato can go naked, why not a cucumber?).

But research shows that a wrapped cucumber lasts more than three times as long as an unwrapped one. It will also lose just 1.5 per cent of its weight through evaporation after 14 days, compared with 3.5 per cent in just three days for an exposed cucumber.

A longer life, the authors, Stephen Aldridge writes, means less frequent deliveries, with all their consequent energy costs, and, crucially, less waste. Globally, we throw out as much as 50 per cent of food, often when it perishes. It typically goes to landfill and gives off methane, a greenhouse gas.

“The cucumber example is significant because it demonstrates that how consumers perceive materials is important in environmental retailing,” Aldridge writes.

“Some materials, such as glass, hardly seem to register on their environmental radar, while others, particularly plastics, are never off it.”

Few items of packaging are seen as synonymous with environmental destruction as much as the plastic carrier bag but their replacement with cotton or heavier plastic bags isn’t necessarily great for the planet.

“A recent Environment Agency study found that a cotton bag would have to be reused approximately 130 times before it became as environmentally efficient as a single-use bag,” Aldridge writes. “If the ‘single-use’ bag were reused just three times as a shopping bag the cotton bag would have to be reused 393 times to achieve the same carbon footprint.”

Of course, he adds, that doesn’t take into account the effects of bags that end up in waterways, for example, but the superiority of “bags for life” very much depends on their genuinely prolonged use….

The Independent: Read the full article

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