A SUPERMARKET which moved to eliminate single-use plastic at its stores appeared to have gone back on its promise after replacing paper bags with non-recyclable packaging.

Waitrose customers alerted the Oxford Mail last week, concerned that the supermarket was reneging on its commitment after finding paper bags in the bakery of the Botley Road store replaced by large plastic bags.

The giant retailer banned plastic carrier bags in all its stores in March. It also replaced loose fruit and vegetable bags with a compostable alternative made of corn starch, which breaks down in landfill within 12 months.

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When contacted, Waitrose provided no further comment on the issue and was unable to explain why plastic had been re-introduced, but said that the correct paper bags were now available.

Shoppers at the store have also noticed an increase in plastic packaging of fresh fruit and vegetables.

When visiting the supermarket last week, the Oxford Mail spotted much produce still wrapped in plastic. All cucumbers were shrink-wrapped, lettuce was sealed in bags and most fruit, including oranges and figs, were either sold in plastic boxes or nets.

However, spokesman James Armstrong said the total number of unpackaged items remained largely unchanged.

He added: “Customers may have seen changes in what is unpacked because of the effect of seasonality. We source from the UK wherever possible, but if products do need to be sourced from elsewhere, the products may need packaging to protect and preserve them to give them longer shelf life to avoid increased food waste.”

Other products, like bananas, tomatoes and peppers were sold both loose and in plastic packaging.

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Mr Armstrong said: “In some cases products are different or, in the case of organic produce, must be clearly identified and kept separate from non-organic produce, as is the case in all supermarkets, for traceability and for Soil Association accreditation.

“By offering similar packaged and unpacked produce, we are hoping to understand customer appetite for loose products and what they really consider to be unnecessary packaging.”

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He added: “Unpacked is still at a testing stage. We are making good progress, but there is still lots of work to be done.”

Following its success at the Botley Road branch, where the ‘Unpacked’ scheme was launched, Waitrose rolled out the scheme at Abingdon and Wallingford.

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The retailer developed the ‘Unpacked’ initiative due to increased concerns over excess single-use packaging.

Earlier this year it pledged to reduce the amount of own-brand packaging, including plastics, by a third by 2023 and to remove 20 per cent of plastic from own-brand ranges by the end of 2021.

The company also committed to ban non-recyclable plastic by 2021 and to remove plastic toys from Christmas crackers and eliminate glitter from cards, wraps, crackers and flowers by 2020.