Of all the hundreds of products on display in the world’s first ‘plastic-free’ supermarket aisle last week, the one attracting most interest was a glossy pack of fat, pink sausages.
It wasn’t because of their arresting colour, or the fact the sausages were sold only in pairs, rather than as a string.
But because their packaging — a shiny, green base and pad for the sausages to nestle on, transparent cover, and sticky label — looked suspiciously, well, plastic.
Many customers were querying what was on offer — or even complaining.
They simply couldn’t believe that among the shiny salad bags, tomato punnets, transparent sacks of potatoes and carrots, and rows of packets of rice, muesli and crisps — a little plastic hadn’t snuck in.
But no, all the packaging in the aisle launched in a branch of the Dutch health food chain Ekoplaza in Amsterdam last Wednesday — is plastic-free, either made from sustainably sourced raw materials such as starch, sugar and wood pulp, or more conventional glass, paper and cardboard.
And it all keeps the food inside just as fresh as plastic.
‘The meat trays are our pride and joy!’ beams Marco, 44, the handsome sales assistant, wearing a black shirt emblazoned with "I’m ready for change".
‘They were very difficult to get right. Everyone finds them very surprising.’
The aisle was created with the help of two entrepreneurial London mums, Sian Sutherland and Frederikke Magnussen. A year ago they launched A Plastic Planet, a campaign group which aims to reduce single-use plastic in the food industry — and together they have ignited a movement that could dramatically change how manufacturers package food and how we shop for it.
Last week’s launch attracted TV and newspaper journalists from around the world.
It has also sent supermarket executives in Britain into a spin.
While the Brits have dithered and Theresa May has made vague promises of plastic-free aisles ‘at some stage’ in the future, Erik Does, Ekoplaza’s chief executive saw the potential immediately and seized the chance to work with Sian and Frederikke. It took just six months for them to source more than 700 suitable products to get the dedicated aisle up and running — and at no extra cost to customers.
Take those sausages; each pack costs the equivalent of just 1p more to produce than the plastic-wrapped alternative — a cost absorbed by Ekoplaza.
Best of all, when the packaging is placed in a food compost bin, it will break down to water, carbon dioxide and other organic waste in just 12 weeks.