Food Safety vs Eco-Friendly on Plastic Packaging on HK Supermarkets

When visiting any branch of a supermarket chain in Hong Kong, you might wonder why staff would invest in so much time wrapping fruit and vegetables in individual plastic.

This practice seems outright contradictory to the move to reduce plastic bag use. The imposition of a 50 cent surcharge to use plastic bag on supermarkets, and to a certain extent charging take-away packaging, has been viewed generally as successful. The sad thing is that its success is being stymied by

Sandra Carvajal, an expat from Colombia, said she observed the increased use of plastic to wrap fruits and veggies compared to when she first arrived in Hong Kong in 2005.

“Every [piece of] fruit is wrapped individually or in pairs. It doesn’t make sense to me,” Carvajal was quoted in a report by South China Morning Post.

“I try to produce the least garbage I can. But when I come back from supermarkets, there is loads of garbage that I throw away – trays, plastic wrapping, individual wrapping. It’s ridiculous,” Carvajal adds.

As the government expressed concern over the future of landfills, it falls short on implementing policies that help reduce waste. Not only plastic waste increases pressure on landfills, they also take a long time to decompose and may be harmful to wildlife.

The only excuse we can consider in extensive use of plastic wrappers is convenience for Hong Kong consumers, who pick them up and bring them to cashiers soon as they enter the stores. Supermarkets may argue that overuse of plastic wrappers is aimed at preserving the shelf life of these goods which are subject to pinching by picky buyers. But could it also be used to conceal defects clients would have otherwise detect and discard these perishable goods?

Cristina Gallio, another expat, says people often do not think of the [adverse] consequences of using plastic wrapping, which does not only cover edible goods; they are also used to package bathroom products meant for bulk sale.

A spokesperson of ParknShop, one of Hong Kong’s biggest supermarket chains, said such packaging was used to protect imported fruits and vegetables during delivery.

“In general, organic fruits and vegetables are pre-packed to prevent cross-contamination with conventional products,” the spokesperson said.

A spokeswoman of City’super, a high-end supermarket chain, cited herbs and soft fruits such as grapes and strawberries that need delicate care to minimize spoilage and moisture loss. She added that the store introduced more eco-friendly, biodegradeable clear polyester bags and trays that decompose easily.

Dairy Farm, which owns ParknShop’s rival chain Wellcome, said it “seeks to avoid unnecessary use of packaging materials, including plastic”.

And while efforts are being done by responsible companies to reduce plastic waste, Environmental Protection Department of the Hong Kong government says “a strong community consensus” on food hygiene makes discouraging the use of excessive packaging a voluntary undertaking.

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