A NUFFIELD scholar says farmers need support from the supermarkets and government to reduce plastic packaging on their produce.
Organic producer Natasha Shields farms on the Mornington Peninsula and supplies supermarket chains and wholesale markets in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.
She was recently awarded a Nuffield Scholarship, supported by The William Buckland Foundation, to travel to Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North America to understand what alternatives to plastic were offered.
European countries had invested in education and policy around compostable packaging, she said.
A Danish start-up company had developed a bioplastic that was made from food waste and could be broken down in home gardens.
Ms Shields said while supermarkets in Australia were trying to get away from using plastic packaging, trials showed produce stayed fresh for up to seven days longer when it was wrapped.
Reduced shelf life could mean more food waste, she said.
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The concern from supermarkets was that compostable packaging would not be processed correctly, she said, and more education was needed for consumers.
"If you do put compostable plastic in your recycling bin with your recycling plastic bags and things like that, it is going to cause problems with the machinery that handles the recyclable plastics," she said.
"I think there's just a lot more education around that over there and encouragement from the supermarkets, the retailers as well as the local government.
"It just seems to come to a lot of blocks here - it just needs a lot more people to come on board."
Ms Shields has published a report on her findings, but said the next step in improving packaging in Australia needed support from retailers and packaging companies themselves.
The coronavirus pandemic had also hindered progress, with customers switching back to produce that was individually wrapped over hygiene concerns, she said.
She hoped a manufacturer in Australia could develop affordable compostable packages, but more still needed to be done.
"But I can't use that product in the supermarkets, which is where I send a lot of my product, because there's no education with what to do with it," she said.
"I feel like my hands are tied until a lot of the big retailers can be more mindful of the environment and have compostable packaging and educate their consumers."
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