Fruit and veg: better off naked

Sometimes, it's best to leave the job to evolution.
Sometimes, it's best to leave the job to evolution. / SUR
  • A campaign encourages shoppers to reject vegetables wrapped in plastic. The perfect packaging already exists: it's called peel

From the first time that someone dislodged a fallen tree trunk to allow a river to flow, to the latest advances in genetic engineering and disease prevention, history is filled with amazing examples of how human intelligence can collaborate with nature for the better. On some occasions, however, man changes the natural course of things and ends up doing more harm than good.

According to the Spanish Desnuda la Fruta campaign (literally, Undress the Fruit), one text book case of this human folly is the use of redundant plastic packaging: the practice of smothering fruit and vegetables (many of which - onions, bananas, oranges, aubergines - are already protected within their own natural packaging) in polystyrene and plastic film to display them on the shelves of shops.

The campaign has shared messages on social media requesting that supermarkets and consumers reduce their use of superfluous, expensive and environment-polluting plastics.

"The 'packaging' designed by nature is biodegradable, is best for preserving food and it's called peel," says Ambiente Europeo, one of the associations involved.

Sometimes, it's best to leave the job to evolution. Peel is 100% organic and can protect its contents against heat, cold, dirt and damp.

Patricia Reina and Fernando Gómez, a couple from Madrid who have reduced their use of disposable plastics to the absolute minimum (they can fit two years' worth of waste into just two lunch boxes - have spent a long time trying to alert the food industry about this unnecessary waste. This effort was without success until they came across Isabel Vicente, author of La Hipótesis Gaia, a blog about environmental issues.

The writer, who is from Salamanca is an agricultural engineer and an Environmental Sciences graduate, who had also noted the "nonsensical" wrapping up of fresh products in supermarkets.

The most "weird and outrageous" example she found was a single onion wrapped in a much-too-large plastic container. This became the main image of the #DesnudaLaFruta campaign, which encourages conscious consumers to photograph fruit and vegetables that are wrapped in plastic in a way that is "abusive and unnecessary" and spread them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter alongside the above hashtag.

The response has been overwhelming and has broken down many barriers. Although the onion remains at the top of the ranking of ridiculous packaging, users have shared images of oranges that had been peeled and repackaged, sprigs of herbs inside boxes that weigh more than they do and ecological courgettes wrapped in non-ecological containers.

"Over-wrapping has become so normal that we've got to the point that it does not surprise anyone, but there are many people who think it's crazy," explain Patricia and Fernando, who recount their experiences in a blog: Vivir Sin Plásticos (Living Without Plastic).

From their point of view, pro-plastic arguments made by certain companies on the basis of hygiene or conservation do not hold up. "Don't oranges, kiwis and bananas have sufficient protection with their own skin? Aren't you going to peel them before you eat them?" they ask.

"I suppose that the packaging is meant to speed up the shopping process, because the client doesn't have to weigh the fruit, but this does not justify all the waste," declares Vicente.

Of the three famous 'Rs' in sustainability - reduce, reuse, recycle - people normally just resort to the last. They put their products in a recycling bin and clear their conscience, but the truth is that half of those plastic remains could end up on landfill sites, or, worse, polluting oceans and beaches.

Reusable bags

The promoters of the vegetable 'striptease' put more emphasis on another R; rejecting the over-packaged food products and realising that the alternative is just as simple: buying loose fruit and veg. In many cases, the consumer can weigh their products and stick the price directly onto the article, or pack their fruit and vegetables in their own reusable bags made of recyclable plastic, fabric or mesh, all of which can be bought very cheaply online. Almost all businesses accept this without question.

However the activists admit that the ball is in the hands of the distribution sector. Although plastic-free supermarkets already exist elsewhere - the latest, called Ekoplaza, has just opened in Amsterdam -, Spain is dragging its feet, say the environmentalists.

"The main objective of the campaign is that this plastic packaging disappears, but, up to now, no companies have agreed to it. Some have said that they will take our suggestions into account, but as of yet no action has been taken."