Canada plans to crack down on plastic in the coming years, and the Canadian Produce Marketing Association has created a road map for how the industry can move forward in a more sustainable way without immediately eliminating use of the material, which serves many important purposes as a primary packaging material for fresh produce.

First, the CPMA put the industry’s use of plastic in perspective; 58% of fresh produce sold in Canadian retailers is not packaged in plastic, and the volume of the material used by the fresh produce industry in Canada is 5.1% of overall plastic packaging and 2% of overall plastic entering the country’s economy each year, according to the CPMA report.

The organization found that, while there are steps that should be taken to reduce the use of plastic, the “premature withdrawal of current plastic packaging” could trigger a slew of undesirable outcomes, including a significant increase in food waste.

Plastic is critical to quality and shelf life for numerous popular fresh produce items, especially packaged salads and berries, and CPMA found that the economic cost would approach $4 billion if plastic were to be disallowed before viable alternatives are developed.

“The range of fresh produce available to consumers would diminish,” CPMA wrote in its report. “Business models may no longer be viable, potentially leading to businesses and sectors ceasing to exist. Prices would inevitably rise as a consequence of a less efficient and effective fresh produce industry. Consumers would have less choice.

“Highly nutritious foods, such as berries, soft fruit, and grapes, would be seasonal,” CPMA wrote. “Demand would exceed supply. Consumers’ price sensitivity would itself negatively impact the purchasing decisions of many. All of this is counter to the revised Canada’s food guide, which promotes the increased consumption of fresh produce.”

However, the CPMA also offered a slate of ways that produce suppliers and retailers can take a more sustainable approach:

  • lightweighting, reducing the volume of plastic per unit sold;
  • manufacturing packaging from polymers that are more economically viable to recycle;
  • including post-consumer recycled (PCR) content in produce packaging;
    designing for recycle, such as replacing multi-resin laminates with mono-resin laminated packaging;
  • incorporating packaging design and materials into procurement decisions; and
  • providing customers with the opportunity to buy items loose and take them home in their own reusable containers.

One focus of CPMA’s report is to get the ball rolling on decreasing the types of plastic packaging used in the industry, a step the organization asserts will help make sure that packaging contains a high percentage of recycled content and that as much of the packaging as possible is recyclable or compostable. Setting standards in this area and educating industry and consumers about this is key, the report states.

“Those plastics not suited to recycling should be discouraged,” CPMA wrote. “The exceptions would be stop-gap solutions while alternative materials and systems are in development. The research identified that the materials that should be discouraged include PVC, Polystyrene, black- and dark-colored plastics, PLA, rigid water soluble plastic, Oxydegradable, Polycarbonate and Acrylic.”

The organization noted throughout its report that the plastic problem reaches far beyond the produce industry. One key issue is the cost of recycled content, and another is the lack of effective recycling infrastructure.

“The challenge is not plastic packaging per se; it is the lack of integrated systems that encompass the entire plastic packaging value chain,” CPMA wrote. “Packaging has not been designed to ensure its ease of recyclability. The lack of commonly accepted and adhered-to global standards for post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastics, combined with worldwide access to high-quality, low-priced virgin materials, has discouraged packaging manufacturers from choosing recycled content over virgin.”

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