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Supermarkets charging more for loose fruits and vegetables

Loose fruit and vegetables are often more expensive than those sold in plastic packaging, a survey of supermarkets has found.

Environmental campaigners have accused supermarkets of discouraging shoppers from saving the planet by making it more expensive to avoid products wrapped in plastic.

Sainsbury's was found to be charging 17p for Braeburn apples in plastic packs of six, while lose apples were 28p.  Tesco Braeburn apples were 44p each loose, but work out at 32p each in a plastic pack of five. Waitrose essential tomatoes were 19p each, but bought in a plastic pack of six they were 12 pence each.

Waitrose has started a trial which allows customers to fill up their own containers with products ranging from pasta and wine to washing up liquid.

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Last week Sainsbury's become the first UK supermarket to remove plastic bags for its loose fruit, vegetables and bakery items and replace them with paper bags across all its stores.

However, green campaigners have called on supermarkets to make lose items cheaper to encourage customers to reduce the use of plastic.

When asked to explain the price difference, the supermarkets referred the Telegraph to the British Retail Consortium (BRC).  A BRC spokesman, explained that it can be cheaper to produce and easier to transport packaged items. A spokesman said: “Packaged fruit and vegetables can sometimes be cheaper because products are bought in bulk and there's less handling and waste involved.”

Tesco is trialling removing plastic from two of its stores and said pricing depends on many factors, adding that loose fruit and veg is not always more expensive than packaged.

A Waitrose spokesman said: "We're testing an initiative at our Botley Road shop in Oxford with the aim of encouraging customers to buy more loose fruit and veg. It has huge potential to shape how people might shop in the future."

However, Ariana Densham, ocean plastics campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said: "It is very concerning if supermarkets are actively dissuading consumers from choosing the plastic free option on the basis of cost.

“It does not take into consideration the longer term cost to our environment, wildlife and human health; and given that we don’t have the facilities to recycle all of this needless waste domestically, much of it is left to sit in our rivers and oceans causing untold harm."

She has called on the government to take action, adding: “The government is now in a position to disincentivise companies from producing and using single-use plastic in the first place, by setting ambitious reduction targets in the upcoming Environment Bill and by establishing an independent watchdog to ensure that these targets are met.”

Friends of the Earth plastic campaigner Julian Kirby added: “Making loose fruit and veg more expensive than plastic-wrapped multipacks penalises people who want to do the right thing and avoid plastic.

“Rather than helping customers say no to pointless plastic, it appears supermarkets are actively encouraging them to buy more.

“If supermarkets want to be greener grocers they should ditch unnecessary plastic packaging.”

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Anita Rani are due to present BBC television show War on Plastic, the first episode of which airs tomorrow(MON). In it, they challenge supermarket shoppers to try and shop without purchasing single-use plastic.

Mr Fearnley Whittingstall said: ”For most of us, over a third of all the plastics in our lives have come from the supermarkets. They could change so much if they chose to. And we can help make that happen, by avoiding those supermarkets that do little, and shopping with those who are ready to make real changes.”

A Defra spokesperson said: “Supermarkets have a clear responsibility to cut unnecessary packaging, reduce waste going to landfill, and increase the amount being recycled and recovered.   “We are encouraging retailers to be more transparent about their efforts to reduce waste and to introduce plastic-free supermarket aisles in which all the food is loose. This will give consumers the choice to make greener decisions and will help promote the use of less damaging plastic packaging”

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