Fair Go asks: Why does fruit in the shops still have stickers?

Fruit stickers. With their four-digit numbers on them, or the source or fruit variety. Who even reads them? And: if consumers don't need this information, why do we still have fruit stickers on our fruit? Remember that they are usually made of plastic or polyethylene, which means they can't be recycled or home composted so they end up adding to our landfill problem.

Fair Go visited Te Matau-a-Māui, Hawke's Bay, a region known for producing some of Aotearoa's best fruit. Yummy Fruit Co General Manager Paul Paynter thinks they're "pretty efficient, but not desirable".

Paul's whānau (extended family) has been in the apple business for generations, and he says finding an alternative to these stickers is priority for the orchards in the region. But equally important is retaining the information that's on them.

"There's the variety obviously, which some people are interested in, because they don't know the difference, there's the brand, so you know where the apples come from," he told tvnz.co.nz. "There's the country of origin on the label as well and that's pretty important internationally too, because a lot of people love to put a sign up saying New Zealand apples, when they're not New Zealand apples."

Paul also says supermarkets make fruit stickers mandatory. In 2018, the Government passed a bill that made country of origin labelling on food, mandatory. The problem is that the little piece of plastic needs to be able to break down when composted, but also be strong enough to travel.

But what does this say about New Zealand’s clean green brand? John Cole, a keen composter,  says he is forever picking out undigested stickers from his compost heap. "They don't compost. They don't dissolve." John worked out that about 5.3 billion pieces of fruit are produced in Aotearoa every year, and if every piece of fruit is labelled, that's 5 billion stickers.

But there have been some efforts to come up with alternatives. Fruit companies Zespri, Bostock and Yummy Fruit Co have all trialed industrial compostable stickers, and both Zespri and Bostock have made a permanent switch to them. Zespri’s Chief Grower, Industry and Sustainability Officer, Carol Ward says they're continuing to work with providers to develop compostable fruit labels. "We're trialing alternative technologies such as laser marking and paper labels, however the solutions for a 100 per cent home compostable food safe label are not available right now."

Photo source: Dreamstime.com


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