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Tesco’s Laser-Tagged Avocados: A Bright Idea in the Fight Against Plastic Waste

Britain’s largest supermarket, Tesco, is trialling a new method to reduce plastic usage—lasering barcodes and product information directly onto products.



The trial currently applies only to avocados, which have become increasingly popular in the UK over the past decade, with avocado on toast being a particular favourite among millennials. The company, ranked 34th in the latest Fortune 500 Europe list, sells close to 70 million of these oily fruits each year, an increase of 15% over the last 12 months.


Tesco informed the Daily Mail that if it were to extend the trial—currently limited to around 270 stores in southeast England—nationwide, it could prevent the use of a million plastic stickers. In the same trial, conducted with its sole supplier, Westfalia Fruit, Tesco is also replacing the plastic trays for avocado multi-packs with a cardboard alternative.


Sad though it is to admit, no one’s going to save the world with lasers alone. The far bigger problem is undoubtedly plastic packaging waste and the emissions associated with transporting the fruits to stores, whether from domestic producers or from farther afield.



It’s also the case that the idea only really applies to certain products—avocados have dark, thick skin that allows a light laser etching to be done both safely and clearly. The same doesn’t apply to, say, a peach.


But that doesn't mean laser-tattooing fruit is merely a publicity stunt.


Ambitious sustainability goals are unlikely to be achieved by one or two grand, sweeping measures.


Instead, large numbers of smaller initiatives offer ways for businesses like Tesco—which, like many others, has a net-zero emissions target for 2050—to move incrementally but assuredly forward.


For example, the group has reduced its scope 1 and 2 emissions—that is, not including end use of its products—by 61% since 2015, which is likely the result of numerous small changes.


What’s next?


Whether there is a plastic-label-free future for avocado-loving Brits depends on how the trial goes.


The bigger changes to watch out for concern alternatives to plastic packaging, from refill stations to packaging derived from materials such as kelp or cassava.


The technology hasn’t quite reached the level of competing with fossil-fuel-derived plastic packaging yet, but technological progress is happening all the time.


Regulation can move the dial too, as demonstrated by the UK’s successful ban on free plastic shopping bags (Aldi is trying something similar in its US stores).


As ever, it’s wise to be somewhat sceptical of what supermarkets, consumer packaged-goods companies, and others say about their efforts. But when you start noticing less plastic in your recycling or rubbish, and more items like laser-etched fruit, you’ll know their efforts are starting to pay off.


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