Plastics are still there

Behind the scenes of Australia's fresh vegetable produce

Although Australian supermarkets are ostensibly trying to reduce the amount of plastic on their shelves, there is more than meets the eye to "naked" vegetables. Victorian horticultural producers have begun to push back against the huge amounts of polystyrene used to transport their fresh produce.

Third-generation vegetable grower Catherine Velisha said it was a moral obligation to become more environmentally sustainable, and she was looking for alternatives. "We try to use less into supermarkets, and into wholesale markets by using more cardboard or reusable plastic products," the Werribee South farmer said. Broccoli is still transported in polystyrene, which is light, keeps produce refrigerated and stacks well, but there is an environmental cost to the operation. "It doesn't just break down by itself and it takes up space, and the particles also get caught in the air and can travel," Ms Velisha said.

Polystyrene problem
Professor of Composite Materials at Deakin University, Russell Varley, said although polystyrene could be reprocessed the practicality of the exercise left a lot to be desired.

"They're extremely low density when they shred it down [and] because the density is so low, there's nothing left — there's just not enough to do anything useful with it," he said.

Dr Varley said habit and economic decisions meant that businesses were likely to continue using the fossil-fuel based polymers, such as polystyrene. "If the cost of oil goes up, companies will think of [reprocessing polystyrene] but while oil is cheap it's so much easier to use virgin material," he said.

Vice President of the Victorian Farmers Federation, Emma Germano, grows vegetables in South Gippsland and she agreed disposing of polystyrene was difficult. Ms Germano said the cost of moving into environmentally-friendly transport packaging put extra pressure on smaller-scale farmers.

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