Relay the term ‘packaging waste’ to the average consumer and it’s fair to say the familiar fruit sticker wouldn’t even register as a potential problem.
Waste disposal experts, however, view it differently and are leading calls for all plastic stickers on fruit to be banned, arguing their cumulative effect is a prime example of a completely unnecessary addition to landfill.
“It’s quite literally a fruitless waste,” said Mark Hall, spokesperson for waste disposal and recycling experts BusinessWaste.co.uk.
“These stickers are removed immediately, thrown in the bin or littered in parks on picnics, and they find their way to landfill. Fruit has its own packaging as provided by Mother Nature – why on earth do we find it necessary to pop a bit of plastic on to make a healthy snack into an environmental hazard?”
According to Great British Apples, around 122,000 tonnes of apples are eaten each year in Britain – meaning that, at an average weight of 80g, approximately 29 million individual apples are sold in the country each week.
Combined with other fruits that come adorned with a sticker, such as bananas, avocados, and pears, this figure reportedly reaches over 100 million pieces of plastic waste heading to landfill each week.
BusinessWaste.co.uk argues there’s no need for the stickers – and it seems the public agrees. In a street survey of 2600 people conducted by BusinessWaste.co.uk, the overwhelming majority – 94 percent – said that the stickers were a waste.
“They get everywhere,” responded mum-of-two Anna, 34. “If it’s not on the dog or the kitchen counters, they’re on the kids’ clothes and then they end up on the floor or clogging up my washing machine and dishwasher, so they’re a nightmare” – a sentiment not shared by her daughter Ruby, aged 5, who interrupted to tell pollsters “I got two stickers on my apple at nursery. I thought it good!”.
Other than being a hit with nursery school children, the sentiment seems clear – stickers on fruit are a waste of time. So why do they exist?
The world-famous Pink Lady apple is a great example: its heart-shaped sticker has become iconic, reassuring buyers that they’re buying the crisp sweet snack they’ve come to associate with the brand – and it clearly works, as they sold £25m of apples following a TV ad campaign. Branding works – but is unnecessary packaging the answer?
Ingenious ideas have been suggested to tackle the issue – including edible barcodes that sit on the skin of fruit – but, so far, nothing has taken off.
Mark Hall continued: “When you see Morrisons selling a single banana – a fruit that comes in its own protective skin – in a non-recyclable tray with single-use wrap, you know we’ve reached an unnecessary level of packaging. Fruit stickers aren’t biodegradable, can’t be recycled, and do nothing that signage around the shelves or options on the tills for checkout workers couldn’t do.
He added: “Fruit is brilliant and we aren’t discouraging that – we should all be getting our five a day! – but we urge retailers and produce growers to innovate and find new ways to market their products. There must be a better way, and it doesn’t involve creating pointless pieces of plastic to stick onto food.”