Foodstuffs: why we're not using compostable bags

Friday, 25 May 2018

Foodstuffs (New World, PAK'nSAVE and Four Square supermarkets) will not be making compostable grocery bags available to customers as they are not in line with our approach. We believe these bags are not an option for the New Zealand environment.

We’re 100% New Zealand owned and operated – and 100% for New Zealand, so we are committed to bringing our customers the most sustainable, environmental alternatives possible. This is part of an overall commitment to reduce single use plastic and to avoid any harmful waste from our business.  For example, we already seeing our customers recycle 8 tonnes of soft plastics out of a total of 12 tonnes collected around New Zealand each week. 

We are committed to removing single use plastic bags at the checkout across all New World, PAK’nSAVE, and Four Square stores by the end of this year. We are testing a couple of options in selected stores as alternatives to single use plastic bags for customers who get caught at the checkout without their reusable bags: 

- A heavy duty reusable plastic bag which can be used a number times but won’t last for years. At the end of their life they can safely enter the soft plastics recycling stream.
- A paper grocery bag which is suitable for kerbside recycling bins.

Feedback suggests that some customers love the paper bag as it brings back memories of a life before plastic, while others like the reusability and versatility of the plastic bag.  Both are being well received by customers. That said, with the number of reusable bags we have already given away, our customers have clearly started to make a change to the way they shop with us. We’ve also seen a massive surge in the sale other long life reusable bags. 

To help New Zealanders understand the issue around ‘compostables’ or ‘bio-plastics’ and various definitions out there – please see below:

Degradable – basically, a standard plastic with a chemical added that disintegrates the bag into tiny pieces of plastic.

VERDICT: Environmentally damaging as tiny pieces of plastic will remain in the environment for a very long time and will be impossible to clean up.

Biodegradable – unregulated and not guaranteed to break down or do so without any residue. 

VERDICT: Potentially environmentally damaging.

Compostable – there are two standards here, home compostable and commercially compostable. The majority of rigid bio plastics are only compostable in a municipal composting environment where they require moisture and temperatures of 70 degrees centigrade minimum to breakdown.

VERDICT: If all bio plastics were guaranteed to be correctly disposed of to appropriate composting environments, this would be arguably better than standard single use plastics. However, they are not, and there are major flaws in the end of life disposal of these items meaning only a tiny percentage would ever be composted. The reality is the majority will go to landfill where they are unlikely to breakdown.

At present:

They are not accepted in commercial composting operation from kerbside collections for fear of the general public not distinguishing the compostable from standard plastic and causing contamination.
Rigid plastics are usually not home compostable.

In the standard plastics kerbside recycling system, compostable plastics are considered a contaminant.