A new series of interviews with British shoppers reveals a clear lack of understanding when it comes to environmentally friendly packaging.
The vox pop study, carried out by the Bio-based and Biodegradable Industries Association (BBIA) to assess public perception of and attitudes to bioplastics and compostable packaging, gives cause for some concern about the effectiveness of the communication efforts in this area.
The interviews, which were conducted as part of the Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI-JU)-funded Usable Packaging project, illustrate clear confusion with the current labelling system for plastic packaging. All respondents claimed that the logos were confusing, with the majority suggesting that they lack the information they need when it comes to disposing of the packaging.
Whilst the recyclable and no littering symbols were well recognised, with over 90 percent correctly identifying them, only 10 percent of those asked were able to name the compostable label.
Understanding of relevant terminology was also mixed. The majority of those interviewed had a clear view of what compostable meant, despite failing to correctly identify the label. However, when questioned on what should be done with compostable packaging after use, half of them were unsure.
The interviews suggest that the concept of plant-based plastics is even less familiar to the British general public. Almost no one could successfully describe what a bioplastic was, although some recognised that the concept sounded positive.
The consumers who were interviewed are making a conscious effort to embrace sustainability in their shopping habits, with 65 percent of them saying they'd be put off buying a product if the packaging wasn’t environmentally friendly. Most people also claimed they would pay more for sustainable packaging.
However, there are limits to the lengths they would be willing to go to in order to adopt a more sustainable behaviour. For example, some shoppers noted that they would only pay a small amount extra for eco-friendly packaging. Others claimed that they would need clear assurance of what ‘good’ the packaging is doing before parting with any additional cash.
Whilst most respondents were attempting to make more sustainable choices, 100 percent agreed that they could do more to live in an environmentally friendly way, citing cost, time, and inspiration as the main barriers to making these changes.
Consumers also suggested that more consistent and clear information is needed to help guide their decisions. Currently, Google, Greenpeace and the Government website are the sources most commonly relied upon for information on packaging, plastics, and sustainable alternatives. However, the respondents believe that organisations including the Government, the media, and packaging companies themselves should be doing more to educate shoppers, with a number suggesting that the responsibility shouldn’t lie with consumers themselves.
“The research gives valuable insight into people's attitudes to packaging and the challenges facing consumers today. The interviews demonstrate that the current system is really confusing, and that people need more clear and consistent information to guide their choices,” said Usable Packaging Project Co-ordinator Prof José Maria Lagarón, of the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (CSIC).
“Clearly, more needs to be done and this only reinforces the commitment of all partners in the Usable Packaging project to create truly sustainable packaging solutions for the future.”
The Usable Packaging project aims to establish a new value chain for bioplastics. This will be based on low-cost and widely-available feedstock, such as by-products and sidestreams from the food processing industry. It will convert the feedstock into poly-hydroxy-alkanoates (PHA), which can be tuned to specific packaging needs and specifications. This will realise packaging items suitable for replacing fossil-based materials in high-performance packaging while retaining biodegradable characteristics.
Usable Packaging (Unlocking the Potential of Sustainable Biodegradable Packaging) is a research and innovation project funded under Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaking with a consortium of 25 institutions from eleven countries, Spain, Italy, Belgium, France, Switzerland, Greece, Turkey, Portugal, Poland, United Kingdom and Croatia. The project started on 1 June 2019 and ends on 31 May 2022.