Walk down your usual supermarket aisle, and bets are on that you’ll come across produce wrapped in a layer of non-recyclable plastic.

Now, in a bid to meet the growing demand for more sustainable packaging from consumers, retail giant Walmart is going to pilot 100% plastic-free cucumbers as part of a collaboration between sustainable startup Apeel and greenhouse vegetable grower Houweling’s Group.

Walmart will be among the first grocers to begin testing plastic-free cucumbers on store shelves. The plastic-free packaging is developed by Apeel, a startup eliminating food waste and plastic pollution at the same time with its edible “peel” technology that ensures shelf-life extension of fresh produce, in partnership with Houweling’s Group, who will use the new packaging for its California Grown English Cucumbers.

Traditionally, cucumbers have been packaged in single-use plastic shrink wrap made from fossil fuels in order to maintain its freshness, firmness and colour. Apeel’s technology means eliminating plastic waste and carbon emissions from the use of fossil fuels in the process – all the while performing the same functions. How? Apeel takes the materials that are in leftover in the peel or skin of avocados, limes, apples and all sorts of fresh fruit and vegetables and uses them as building blocks to produce a blend that acts as a protective layer for produce. 

Not only is this edible “peel” itself made from the lipids and glycerolipids extracted from food waste, it slows water loss and oxidation – which is a leading cause of spoilage that leads to even more food waste, thereby reducing the chances of the product being discarded. Now that Houweling’s is using Apeel’s packaging alternative for its cucumbers, for every 500,000 cases it ships out, an equivalent of 820,000 single use plastic water bottles are eliminated from the supply chain. 

“From the first time we reviewed the potential of plastic-free cucumbers, we saw the opportunity and the challenge of bringing avante-garde technology to market. From a high-level, the opportunity to lead a disruption in this category and improve our decorated sustainability profile put us on course to where we are today,” said Kevin Doran, Houweling’s Group President & CEO.

This partnership marks the first time that the edible peel technology has been used to replace single-use shrink wrap used in standard packs at retail. If Houweling’s Group swapped out all its plastic shrink wrap for every one of its products, the total savings could potentially reach the equivalent of a whopping 85 million plastic straws.

For a major greenhouse vegetable grower and the largest supermarket chain in the U.S. to trial plastic-free fresh produce is a key indication of the growing demand from consumers for more sustainable packaging options.

“When surveying the cucumber consumer, we heard loud and clear the desire to avoid single-use plastics, with 62% holding the preference,” explained David Bell, Houweling’s Group CMO. “This echoed the direct requests we hear from consumers and retail partners around removing the plastic.”

“A vegetable that is susceptible to dehydration and shrinkage and normally wrapped in plastic can say a final goodbye to their plastic protection,” wrote Apeel on its blog post announcing the collaboration. “And we can all say hello to a healthier planet.”

Other supermarket retailers are also exploring new packaging options amid the pressure to eliminate plastic waste from store shelves. Recently, Tesco in the U.K. announced a partnership with circular packaging e-commerce platform Loop, marking the first time groceries will be available in reusable containers in the country. Meanwhile, Target, Kroger, Walgreens and others have come together in the U.S. to establish an alliance dedicated to developing alternatives for disposable plastic bags.

Source: Green Queen

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