Consumers' Impact on Sustainable Packaging

Canva - Person Giving Fruit to Another-1

In our post, Retailers and Corporate Social Responsibility, we wrote about how retailers are a driving force behind brands evaluating their packaging program to ensure that sustainability is considered from raw material sourcing all the way to design practices. In addition, there is increasing pressure from consumers for brands to take responsibility for the entire life-cycle of their product including the packaging it is sold in.  These combined expectations are spurring companies toward more environmentally conscious business practices, enabling eco-driven projects to spearhead innovation.

The Truth in the Numbers

Industry insight1 has revealed that:
  • More than half of consumers surveyed say that they are willing to pay more for sustainable products which were designed specifically to be reused or recycled.
  • 72% of respondents are buying more environmentally friendly options today than they were 5 years ago.
  • Over the next 5 years, 81% of consumers expect to buy more eco-conscious products.

While consumers remain primarily focused on quality and price, 83% believe it’s important or extremely important for companies to design products that are meant to be reused or recycled.1

Average estimated willingness to pay (WTP) for packaging recyclability is positive for all materials; however, it is the highest for plastic, followed by aluminum, glass, and then carton.2 Findings reveal that consumers’ willingness to pay for packaging recyclability is influenced by sociodemographic variables such as age and political party affiliation, as well as motives and barriers to recycling.2

One hypothesis is that consumers may be willing to pay the most for plastic packaging recyclability because they view plastic as more detrimental for the environment if it is not recycled. 2

Consumers reporting time sensitivity as a deterrent to recycling were likely to have a lower willingness to pay for more sustainable packaging, despite potentially earning relatively high incomes. This is an important finding for the industry, suggesting high-earners face a trade-off and may be willing to pay more for packaging recyclability as long as their time involvement is reduced.2

Dealing with the Knowledge Gap

In a collaborative study conducted in 2018 by the Flexible Packaging Association and the Harris Poll, consumers and brand owners were surveyed about their perspectives on sustainability and packaging.

It was determined that brands are aware of consumers’ increased concerns around sustainability, particularly regarding sustainable material use, but that many brands believe the majority of consumers do not consider the processes required to achieve many sustainability goals.3

While there is demand for sustainable packaging, there is also a knowledge gap with end-users about packaging processes, attributing factors, material specifications, and standard production practices which impact the overall quality of a completed flexible packaging product.3

Regarding sustainability, consumers primarily focus on recyclability and reusability features3 and overlook other crucial manufacturing components such as:

  • specific life-cycle assessment attributes,
  • manufacturing processes,
  • transportation and energy efficiencies, and
  • packaging features designated for food safety.

Additionally, there is a lack of consumer knowledge around resin identification codes, resulting in an inability to identify bio-based materials and the methods by which they should be recycled. This, then, results in contamination of recycling streams at material recovery facilities. To compound the issue, an incorrect understanding of plastic has attributed to a throwaway culture rather than an increase in recycling, negatively impacting efforts to divert recyclable plastic packaging from the landfills.

Companies have responded by promoting the recyclable and reusable attributes of their packaging materials in an effort to promote recycling behavior, and while there has been an increase in the overall amount of packaging recycled, the percent of packaging that is recycled has remained stagnant in recent years.2

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2. Consumer preferences and demand for packaging material and recyclability. 2016.  Kimberly,Klaiman; David L.Ortega; CloéGarnache. Dept. of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics, Michigan State University, 446 W. Circle Dr., East Lansing, MI 48824, USA


Topics: Packaging, Display-ready packaging, Fresh Produce, Packaging Trends, sustainability, flexible packaging, produce packaging