Left Holding the Bag
A Survey of Plastic Packaging In Canada’s Grocery Stores
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.
Plastic in the Baby Food Aisle
Plastic in the Produce Department
Plastic in the Pet Food Aisle
Plastic in the Soup Aisle
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Governments need to step up regulations 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:
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.