Individually wrapped onions wrapped in a Wellington Pak 'n Save store garnered outcries and outrage on Twitter. But it's a complex matter getting supermarkets and suppliers to switch to packaging that's affordable, sustainable and still keeps customers safe from bugs, leakage and saboteurs.
Foodstuffs, which owns the Pak 'n Save brand, said it urged all its stores to use plastic packaging responsibly. Both Foodstuffs and its key rival Progressive, which owns Countdown, have been taking steps to reduce their packaging or find recyclable alternatives.
Foodstuffs pointed to a raft of steps it has made, including "nude" fruit and vegetables, while Countdown pointed to the more than 70 tonnes of plastic it has removed from its produce section. Countdown has also withdrawn single-use plastic straws, adopted recyclable meat trays, and is switching to a recyclable type of bakery packaging.
A problem often cited with recycling food packaging is the risk of contamination. But Countdown spokeswoman Charlotte Haycock said the company said that where plastic packaging was needed for "food safety, transportation and freshness," it was looking for better alternatives.
"It's not simply a matter of quickly swapping out plastic for compostable materials, for example, because there simply aren't the commercial composting facilities available in New Zealand needed to process it at scale."
Countdown was unable to force suppliers to change their packaging but it was exercising that right over its own brand products, she said. But supermarkets do have considerable sway over suppliers and manufacturers.
Stuff.co.nz quoted Farrelly, a Massey University environmental anthropologist who made world headlines last year for saying glitter should be banned, as saying : "Why should manufacturers be allowed to release products into the market without first proving they are safe? At the very least, they should ensure their plastic products are recyclable."