Pre-packed fruit and vegetables could become a thing of the past in the UK with the government now considering new regulations.

The proposed laws around food waste could see plastic wrapping dropped in favour of loose produce across UK supermarkets.

Slated to be implemented in 2024, the laws would affect all major UK supermarkets and would see stores sell loose fruit and vegetables in an effort to slash plastic packaging and reduce food waste. It would also become mandatory to sell loose produce in recyclable bags.

The proposed shift was driven by Wrap, the climate action NGO, which suggests that 30% of fruit and vegetables should be sold loose by 2025 and that this figure should increase to 50% by 2030. However, the charity has said that some produce, including soft fruit, may still be packaged in plastic to maintain quality.

Catherine David, Director of Behavior Change and Business Programs at Wrap, said in November: “We know that buying loose fruit and veg helps people waste less at home and so we’re working with retailers to sell more loose fresh produce which removes single-use plastics too …

“We need to reshape the food system and treat food like the precious resource it is. Slowing down is not an option given the damage caused by food waste and its direct contribution to climate change.”

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Looking at the issue of food waste more broadly, Wrap notes that around 10.7 million tonnes of food is wasted across sectors, worth around £22bn annually and accounting for 18 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. 

Of this waste, uncut fruit and vegetable packaging accounts for approximately 70,000 tonnes of “hard to recycle” plastic annually.

The issue of plastic waste and recycling has become more important to packaging companies over recent years. Analytics from GlobalData, Packaging Gateway’s parent company, show a significant increase in the frequency of key terms around plastic waste management in company filings within the industry since 2016, albeit with a dip in 2023.

The proposed ban on plastic packaging for fruit and vegetables has seen support from MPs, with Sir Robert Goodwill stating: “I welcome any attempts to reduce plastic packaging of supermarket food and ­allow more people to buy fruit and veg loose.”

It follows France’s signing of decree in August 2023, banning the sale of fruit and vegetables packaged in plastic from 30 June 2026.