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​”Out of the bag” – A guide to reduce plastic packaging in the Arctic

We are increasingly aware of the problem of plastic pollution, not only in far off ocean gyres but on our own beaches and recreational areas. In response to this problem there is both a global and local drive to reduce plastic waste. This includes lifestyle tips to reduce our plastic use, the development of a plastic eating enzyme and the technological prototype “The Ocean Cleanup”. The cities Tromsø and Bodø in Arctic Norway are also taking steps to improve waste management and reduce plastic use. The aims of both cities are in line with recent EU legislation related to packaging and packaging waste, which includes an essential requirement to reduce waste by minimizing weight and volume of packaging.

Kathy Dunlop (Akvaplan-niva and Holt Læringstun in Tromsø) and fellow scientist Melissa Brandner (Nord University in Bodø) have teamed up to create a shoppers guide for Tromsø and Bodø to help reduce the consumption of packaging. The “Out of the bag” project has a particular focus on plastic. Kathy and Melissa have independently worked to find ways to reduce their own packaging use and to achieve this they began to collect information on packaging in local shops. However, they soon realized that other people were also interested in this information. Therefore, on the 9th of August 2018 they simultaneously collected information on the packaging of fruits and vegetables in all major supermarkets in Tromsø and Bodø. From this effort it was found that vegetables were more often packaged in plastic than fruit in both locations (average: vegetables 73.5%, Fruit 42.5%). The project also examined the top ten most common produce in supermarkets and key results were that that apples, melons and bananas were the fruit most likely not to be presented in plastic packaging while berries were almost always in plastic. In the vegetables category, potatoes and mushrooms were the produce to be least wrapped in plastic while salad, bell peppers and carrots were almost always in plastic packaging. A positive key finding in both locations was that all of the top ten vegetables can be bought without any packaging.

Many grocery stores are looking for ways to improve packaging with solutions that both protect the produce and reduce food-waste and minimize resource use and the environmental impact from packaging. The “Out of the bag” guide will help retailers to monitor packaging levels and identify key areas for potential reduction. The guide will also act as a forum for shops and local communities to share ideas on ways to reduce plastic use.

The “Out of the Bag” project is now working to develop a mobile app and online guide with the information collected in Tromsø and Bodø. The aim of this is to help consumers make more informed choices to reduce plastic packaging when purchasing fruits and vegetables.