In the media

How can shoppers be persuaded to use sustainable packaging options?

By Jamie Hailstone


08 March 2024

As consumers, we are frequently being told that moving to more sustainable, reusable, and refillable packaging is key to creating a circular economy, with less waste going to landfill.

But there is an awful lot of messaging out there regarding consumer goods when it comes to packaging, some of it clearer than others. Is it the role of the consumer to fathom out the best option, or should manufacturers or the legislature take the lead?

The issue is highlighted by a recent survey by PA Consulting which found nearly four in five respondents (78%) fail to choose products with reusable and refillable packaging.

Although, the survey of 4,000 British and American consumers also found a similar figure (80%) believe we have a collective responsibility to reduce the need for single-use plastics.

And more than half (57%) of those surveyed admitted they worry about the amount of single-use plastic and unrecyclable materials used in takeaway food and drink packaging.

The survey also highlighted a gulf between action and intent, with two in five (38%) saying they recognise the importance of being environmentally friendly but find it hard to incorporate this in their daily routine.

PA Consulting’s design strategy lead for the UK, Matt Millington said in an interview many consumers are starting see more sustainable packaging solutions in the marketplace, but they have still not really hit the mainstream.

But Millington added there are various regulations coming into force, which may prove to be a tipping point and force large corporations into deploying reuse and refill packaging solutions.

“If we’re serious about making these systems work, we need to design for human behaviour,” he told me.

“A lot of packaging does not really tell you what it is there for, and so consumers do not really understand what to do with it afterwards,” added Millington.

“Consumers are not motivated to engage with the packaging or think about it differently,” he added.

“This is particularly the case at quick-service restaurants, where customers are in a headspace of convenience. We need to put action-based information on the packing that people can actually engage with.”

Millington added there also needs to be clearer communication about what bins consumers should use in restaurants and other retail settings to dispose of packaging.

He said there is research out there which shows consumers are more likely to respond to the more tangible aspects of plastic pollution, like litter and how the biggest impact people want to see is less litter around them.

“Maybe litter is a motivation to get people to engage in the short term, because it’s much more tangible than offsetting carbon,” Millington told me. “It feels like something which is more achievable.”

The corporate affairs director at Veolia, Cory Reynolds said in an interview she believes ultimately “waste is a result of bad design” and materials which can be recycled or re-used should not be going to landfill.

“We need producers to design for recyclability,” Reynolds told me.

“But we also need clear binary labelling that is consistent throughout, so that when you’re looking at something in a shop, you can very easily decipher that it is a sustainable packaging product.”

She added there will also need to be legislative changes to force producers to choose sustainable materials in the first place.

“Penalties and incentives need to be rightly set to encourage the movement of packaging towards greater sustainability. Levies like the plastic packaging tax need to be escalated to achieve their aims of greater incorporation of recycled materials,” said Reynolds.

"We need to transition to an economy where it becomes the best decision financially to design for recyclability and use recyclable material.”

The chief commercial officer of waste management platform Resourcify, Angeley Mullins commented in an email if consumers are not educated on their options, then they cannot be expected to make the right decisions.

Mullins said it is up to businesses to convey those messages to their consumers, so they understand that the packaging is sustainable, and the positive impact of purchasing items that can be reused or recycled.

But she added, it is also up to businesses to provide their consumers with sustainable packaging options.

“Informed consumers would often like to choose sustainable options, but that isn’t always an option,” said Mullins.

And Francesca Kennedy Wallbank, co-founder of CarbonBright, which carries out sustainability assessments on packaged goods, said in an interview it is hard to expect consumers to choose sustainable packaging, when it is often not clear what the options actually are.

But she added one of the ways to get consumers to choose more sustainable packaging is through demonstrating the social value of people making that change en-masse, rather than just an individual.

Read the original article in Forbes

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