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Grocery lobby skeptical about bringing French plastic ban to Finland

Most fruit and vegetables sold in French supermarkets will no longer be wrapped in single use plastic from next year.

Kurkkuja pussitetaan.
The trade sector worries that less packaging could harm products' shelf life and thus increase food waste. Image: Amanda Vikman / Yle

In a move to reduce non-recyclable waste, France will be implementing a total ban on plastic packaging for some fresh products such as apples and potatoes, a move that the Finnish trade sector is yet to warm up to.

Ilkka Nieminen, the director of the Finnish Grocery Trade Association (PTY), an industry lobby group, is among the skeptics. Nieminen said the total ban implemented by France will contradict the EU's goal of reducing food waste and would prefer to see corporations come up with their own plans to reduce plastic waste.

"We shouldn't focus solely on the issue of plastics for that product group and ignore the issue of food waste," the PTY director said, adding that fruits and vegetables make up a significant proportion of the food that ends up in landfill.

Switch to less single-use already underway

Supermarkets have already taken steps towards reducing plastic packaging. Many grocery shops in Finland are already selling some fruits and vegetables unpackaged while looking for eco-friendlier solutions for products that cannot do without.

According to K-Group, packaging reforms it carried out last year helped to avoid the use of plastic equivalent to 14 million plastic bags.

"We aim for our packaging to be recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025," the Finnish supermarket giant told Yle via email.

Plastic affects the shelf life of fresh food

S-Group Sustainability and Compliance Manager Anni Loukaskorpi agrees with Nieminen that banning all plastic packaging would have major negative impacts in relation to food waste.

Packaging often accounts for less than five percent of the environmental load of the entire product, Loukaskorpi said, adding that for example, "the plastic packaging of cucumbers is quite thin and light, yet it can significantly improve the shelf life of the product."

The EU wants to reduce plastic pollution

Program Manager at the Ministry of the Environment, Merja Saarnilehto, says that packaging bans akin to the one in France, aim to reduce the use of single use plastics overall in line with the EU's efforts to tackle non-recyclable waste.

Meanwhile, Saarnilehto says ecologically-friendlier packaging solutions must "not cause greater disadvantages in relation to food preservation," however the program manager argues that a lot of the fruit sold in areas such as central Europe arrives pre-packaged.

"I believe that, especially in the case of fruit and vegetables, pre-packaging is often not necessary for preservation," she said.

The implementation of the EU's single-use plastics directive in Finland is still underway. The government is set to make a proposal on how to put the directive into practise by the end of the year. Saarnilehto says the alternatives include rigid legislation or more flexible regulations targeting specific actors in each field.

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