UK supermarkets test plastic-free zone

Oxford’s Waitrose supermarket branch sold 160 produce items in bulk as a part of its “unpackaging” event. (AFP)
Updated 22 August 2019

UK supermarkets test plastic-free zone

  • Waitrose unsure whether zones would work in all 344 locations across Britain

LONDON: British supermarkets are starting to go “nude.” Bowing to pressure from environmentally conscious consumers, big brand shops have begun taking steps to strip their shelves of plastic wrapping over concerns about saving the oceans from waste.

“Nude zones” and “Food in the Nude” campaigns are already being rolled out in places such as New Zealand and South Africa, where many fresh fruits and vegetables are grown within relatively easy reach.

Now retailers in Britain, where even bananas are often sealed in plastic to keep them fresh and during shipping, are following suit.

“I've just done my first-ever plastic-free shop,” said May Stirling, 49, who travelled 60 kilometers  from the village of Ramsbury to Oxford for the university city’s “unpackaging” event at the local Waitrose supermarket.

“It's so liberating,” she siad, carrying her own containers for the loose products.

The Oxford branch of the upmarket chain was selling 160 types of vegetables and fruits, plus cereals, grains, couscous, lentils, wine, beer and other items in bulk, in what was initially planned as an 11-week trial.

“I just wish there were a few more things I could have got today,” said Stirling, who added that she would have liked more choice of non-packaged cereals.

British stores rely greatly on plastic to ship, store and sell items.

Like Stirling, other shoppers have also been pressing the Oxford Waitrose supermarket to do more to stop plastics pollution via a wall, set up by staff, where customers have pinned hundreds of suggestions, many asking for refillable bottles for items like milk and cleaning products.

It has now extended its trial in the branch and announced that it would soon introduce the scheme in three other stores.

Waitrose has said however that it has yet to establish whether plastic-free zones would work in all of its 344 locations across Britain.

“While the priority is the environmental benefit, we clearly need to ensure (the trial) is commercially viable,” spokesman James Armstrong said.

Plastic packaging is cheaper than some of the other possible options.

So, are shoppers ready to pay more for their groceries to come wrapped in ecological packaging?

Fran Scott, a 55-year-old marketing consultant, is unsure.

“I genuinely don’t know,” she said, while also shopping at Waitrose, armed with her own plastic containers.

“I would like to think that,” she added however.

Other big supermarket chains have signed up to The UK Plastics Pact. The pledge's four tenets include eliminating all single-use packaging and making the remainder recyclable or compostable by 2025.

Tesco and Asda, a low-cost retailer, have promised to stop using plastic for online shopping deliveries.

Morrisons, which like Tesco and Asda is among the biggest five supermarket chains in Britain, intends to install plastic-free produce zones in 60 locations by the end of the year.

Others are going further. Budgens Belsize Park, a London branch of the smaller supermarket chain Budgens — part of a 147-year-old company of nearly 250 franchises — has already ripped the plastic off more than 2,300 of its 14,000 products.

“We did this to show the other big supermarket chains that it wasn’t as difficult as they said it was,” said a Budgens manager.


Oil prices surge after attacks hit Saudi output

Updated 16 September 2019

Oil prices surge after attacks hit Saudi output

  • The Houthi attacks hit two Aramco sites and effectively shut down six percent of the global oil supply
  • President Donald Trump said Sunday the US was ‘locked and loaded’ to respond to the attacks

HONG KONG: Oil prices saw a record surge Monday after attacks on two Saudi facilities slashed output in the world’s top producer by half, fueling fresh geopolitical fears as Donald Trump blamed Iran and raised the possibility of a military strike on the country.
Brent futures surged $12 in the first few minutes of business — the most in dollar terms since they were launched in 1988 and representing a jump of nearly 20 percent — while WTI jumped more than $8, or 15 percent.
Both contracts pared the gains but were both still more than 10 percent up.
The attack by Tehran-backed Houthi militia in neighboring Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is bogged down in a five-year war, hit two sites owned by state-run giant Aramco and effectively shut down six percent of the global oil supply.
Trump said Sunday the US was “locked and loaded” to respond to the attack, while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “The United States will work with our partners and allies to ensure that energy markets remain well supplied and Iran is held accountable for its aggression.”
Tehran denies the accusations but the news revived fears of a conflict in the tinderbox Middle East after a series of attacks on oil tankers earlier this year that were also blamed on Iran.
“Tensions in the Middle East are rising quickly, meaning this story will continue to reverberate this week even after the knee-jerk panic in oil markets this morning,” said Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst at OANDA.
Trump authorized the release of US supplies from its Strategic Petroleum Reserve, while Aramco said more than half of the five million barrels of production lost will be restored by tomorrow.
But the strikes raise concerns about the security of supplies from the world’s biggest producer.
Oil prices had dropped last week after news that Trump had fired his anti-Iran hawkish national security adviser John Bolton, which was seen as paving the way for an easing of tensions in the region.
“One thing we can say with confidence is that if part of the reason for last week’s fall in oil and improvement in geopolitical risk sentiment was the news of John Bolton’s sacking ... and thoughts this was a precursor to some form of rapprochement between Trump and Iran, then it is no longer valid,” said Ray Attrill at National Australia Bank.