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UK supermarkets testing plastic-free zones

London

BRITISH supermarkets are starting to go "nude". Bowing to pressure from environmentally conscious consumers, big brand shops have begun taking steps to strip their shelves of plastic wrapping over concerns about saving the oceans from waste.

"Nude zones" and "Food in the Nude" campaigns are already being rolled out in places such as New Zealand and South Africa, where many fresh fruits and vegetables are grown within relatively easy reach.

Now retailers in Britain - where even bunches of bananas are often sealed in plastic to keep them fresh and undamaged during long-distance shipping - are gradually following suit.

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"I've just done my first-ever plastic-free shop," said May Stirling, who travelled 60 km from the village of Ramsbury to Oxford for the university city's "unpackaging" event at the local Waitrose supermarket. "It's so liberating," the 49-year-old mother said, carrying her own containers for the loose products.

The Oxford branch of the upmarket chain was selling 160 types of vegetables and fruits, plus cereals, grains, couscous, lentils, wine, beer and other items in bulk, in what was initially planned as an 11-week trial.

"I just wish there were a few more things I could have got today," said Ms Stirling, who added in particular that she would have liked a greater choice of non-packaged cereals for her son.

Currently, British stores rely greatly on plastic to ship, store and sell items. The country's 10 largest grocery chains produce 810,000 tonnes of single-use plastic packaging every year, a figure that does not include bags, Greenpeace and the UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency said in November.

Like Ms Stirling, other shoppers have also been pressing the Oxford Waitrose supermarket to do more to stop plastics pollution via a wall, set up by staff, where customers have pinned hundreds of suggestions, many asking for refillable bottles for items like milk and cleaning pro-ducts. It has now extended its trial in the branch and announced that it would soon introduce the scheme in three other stores.

Waitrose has said, however, that it has yet to establish whether plastic-free zones would work in all of its 344 locations across Britain. "While the priority is the environmental benefit, we clearly need to ensure (the trial) is commercially viable," spokesman James Armstrong said.

Plastic packaging is cheaper than some of the other possible options.

So, are shoppers ready to pay more for their groceries to come wrapped in more ecological packaging?

Fran Scott, a 55-year-old marketing consultant, is unsure. "I genuinely don't know," she said, while also shopping at Waitrose, armed with her own plastic containers. "I would like to think that," she added. AFP