More than 70 per cent of products in Canada’s produce and baby food aisles are now packaged in plastic, which can expose people to microplastics and harmful chemical additives.

Grocery packaging is a significant source of plastic pollution and waste, including a growing amount of plastics that cannot be recycled.

The big grocery chains do not have effective plans in place to reduce plastic packaging.

be left holding the bag

If you are left holding the bag, you are put in a situation where you are responsible for something, often in an unfair way because other people fail or refuse to take responsibility for it.

Collins English Dictionary


A trip to the grocery store is a frustrating experience for people who want to avoid single-use plastic packaging. Our food is increasingly encased in throwaway plastic at a time when governments in Canada and around the world are committing to address the plastic pollution crisis and related human health risks. 

To identify the sources of the plastic packaging we face when we shop for food, Environmental Defence commissioned a survey of 54 high-traffic grocery stores across Canada, including Loblaws, Sobeys, Metro and Walmart.

We looked at four departments: produce, baby food, pet food and soups.

Auditors scanned more than 40,000 products in stores belonging to four major grocery chains and some independent grocery retailers across Canada.

Key Findings
  • Baby food was the most likely to be packaged in plastic, at 76 per cent, a figure that is consistent across the different chains and banners.
  • Grocery stores incentivize the purchase of plastic-wrapped produce: the price per weight of whole fruits and vegetables is cheaper when the produce is pre-packaged in multiples than when it is sold unpackaged.
  • Pet food appears to be shifting toward plastic packaging. Pet food had an average of 66 per cent plastic packaging across all stores and products but a variation of nearly 20 per cent between the chains, from a low of 58 per cent to a high of 76 per cent.
  • There is otherwise very little variation between the stores. If you shop at a major local grocery store, you will not be able to avoid single-use plastic packaging.
  • Existing commitments from the major grocery chains and government policy to reduce plastic packaging waste are not tackling the growing use of throwaway plastic on grocery store shelves.
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Plastic in the Baby Food Aisle


Plastic in the Produce Department


Plastic in the Pet Food Aisle


Plastic in the Soup Aisle

Findings by Department

Plastic-wrapped Peppers, Parsley & Pears

The audit found 71 per cent of items in the produce department were packaged in plastic, including whole fruits and vegetables. Only 27 per cent of items were available with no packaging. From individually-wrapped coconuts, squash and cucumbers to bags and pouches for citrus fruits, bananas and peppers, plastic-wrapped whole fruit and vegetables have become an unnecessary norm.  


  • No packaging: fruits and vegetables come in their own casings of peel, husk, rind or shell. 
  • Where packaging is needed (e.g., berries and prepared food), make it reusable. 

Purées in Pouches

More than three-quarters of all items marketed as baby food were packaged in plastic. This includes a significant number of plastic pouches now used for purées that were once almost exclusively packed in glass jars.

Food consumed directly from plastic packaging is a source of microplastics. Babies and young children, who are particularly vulnerable to toxic chemical exposures, fed from single-use plastic-wrapped food and containers are likely ingesting microplastic particles and chemical plastic additives. 

Plastic packaging demands closer scrutiny and action to protect this vulnerable group from the health effects of microplastics and toxic additives. 


  • Glass and paper, ensuring that plastic and chemical additives are not used in closures or lining of the packaging.
  • Safe reusable containers that can be returned to the store for cleaning and refilling. 

Plastic-packaged Puppy Chow

Two-thirds of products marketed for pets were packaged in plastic. 

Domesticated animals studied by the Environmental Working Group in the US were found to have been exposed to a wide range of chemicals, including toxic plastic additives used in plastic packaging. 


  • Safe metal and paper packaging that does not contain plastic or chemical linings and that can be recycled or composted.
  • Returnable containers that can be washed and refilled.

Is the Soup Aisle Safe? 

Soups were the least likely items to be packaged in plastic, at 35 per cent. However, there is no plan in place to prevent soups from following the trend observed in the other grocery departments.

Lack of Action on Grocery Store Packaging

Existing and planned regulations on plastic and toxic chemicals are not adequate to address the sheer amount and type of plastic packaging used for grocery items.

None of the grocery stores we visited have a plan in place to eliminate throwaway plastic packaging on the shelves we looked at. What's more, government regulations to address plastic pollution do not acknowledge this growing source of plastic waste.

Plastic packaging


Without urgent interventions, plastic pollution from groceries will only increase, as will the risks to our health and the environment.

Governments need to step up regulations of plastic packaging:

  1. Ban plastic packaging material that is not recycled at scale.
  2. Require refill and reuse of 30 per cent of retail packaging by 2030.
  3. Set a legal requirement for labelling of hazardous chemicals in products, including food packaging.
  4. Urgently assess chemicals used in packaging, including bisphenols and phthalates, with the aim to eliminate whole classes of hazardous chemicals from food packaging.
  5. Improve transparency of formulations of chemicals used in food packaging.
  6. Set high targets for the safe and environmentally-sound recycling of plastic packaging.

Retailers do not appear to be on track to reach even their own goals to reduce plastic packaging waste. Between now and 2025, we recommend retailers:

  1. Eliminate packaging for at least 90 per cent of produce and encourage the use of reusable produce bags.
  2. Eliminate the use of plastic packaging for foods marketed to babies and toddlers.
  3. Phase out the use of plastic pouches, wrappers and films for all products.
  4. Introduce or scale up reuse and refill opportunities.
  5. Be transparent about the additives used in the packaging of food products and require this information from suppliers.

Let's take action!


Produced by ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE. Researched and written by Karen Wirsig with contributions by Brittany Harris, Ashley Wallis and Cassie Barker. Additional research by Merchandising Consultants Associates Limited. For a full list of contributors, please download the report.

© Copyright April 2023 by ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE CANADA. Permission is granted to the public to reproduce or disseminate this report, in part, or in whole, free of charge, in any format or medium without requiring specific permission. Any errors or omissions are the responsibility of ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE CANADA.