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Consumers' Take on Sustainable Packaging

Many consumers are apathetic about the eco-friendliness of the packaging for the products they buy, a recent study shows.

May 31, 2011

Unsustainable packaging

Courtesy Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Thinkstock

According to a survey, less people think consumers should be responsible for recycling product packaging.

In the just-completed wave of shopper research on environmentally friendly packaging conducted by Perception Research Services, 38 percent of shoppers agreed that consumers should be responsible for recycling packaging, down from 42 percent in 2009, with Midwest shoppers showing the least inclination (only 30 percent).

While more shoppers expect environmentally friendly packaging to cost more (36 percent versus 15 percent in 2008), fewer report a willingness to pay for it, and 59 percent say that environmentally friendly packaging should be at no additional cost to the consumer.

Ironically, while few shoppers indicated they would like to choose more environmentally friendly packaging (28 percent), nearly half think manufacturers should produce more of it; and fully one-third think government should mandate stricter environmental standards for packaging.

Shoppers’ reliance on manufacturers' efforts may derive from an awareness of the steps that have been taken: Half of the shoppers polled indicated they noticed companies' claims about environmentally friendly packaging. And of those, half noticed more of these claims in the past six months.

Fortunately for manufacturers, these shoppers feel their motives to create environmentally friendly packaging are primarily virtuous. More than half say companies are making these efforts for reasons having to do with reducing waste, saving resources and making the world a better place. Very few attribute these actions to self-serving interests, such as selling more product or increasing profits. And few think companies overstate the environmental benefits of their packaging.

Shoppers' reported behavior patterns also suggest that they want someone else to do the work in this area, as nearly half (48 percent) say that seeing a "made from recycled materials" claim makes them more interested in buying the product, a significant increase from 39 percent in 2009. This more passive activity contrasts with the fact that very few (only 17 percent) say they check to see if a package is recyclable before buying a product. And, fully one-third report that they generally do not recycle packaging, consistent with the 2008 level.

"It's becoming clear that while consumers may voice concern for the environment, most appear unwilling—at the moment—to make any major sacrifices to make a difference,” says Jonathan Asher, senior vice president of PRS. “They'd rather rely on manufacturers to provide products and packaging that they can feel good about, without changing their behavior, giving up performance or paying more.”

"Manufacturers have had the impression that they needed to be in sync with consumers' environmental concerns and fit with the emerging lifestyle of going green," Asher continues. "Our findings suggest that rather than follow consumers' lead, manufacturers must be at the forefront, making it easier for shoppers to buy the products they prefer while also feeling good about the environmental impact and making as little sacrifice as possible. It's a tall order, but if delivered, will be highly rewarded."

The three waves of this research were conducted in 2008, 2009 and 2010, across the U.S., among more 1,000 primary household grocery shoppers ages 18 to 64 per wave.

Check out Urban Farm readers’ thoughts about eco-friendly packaging.

Give us your opinion on Consumers' Take on Sustainable Packaging.
Submit Comment »
There may be some difficulty in transition
Annie, Houston, TX
Posted: 4/10/2012 12:01:29 PM
i, i, AK
Posted: 6/5/2011 11:46:55 PM
At this point in the grand scheme of things I don't think people really want to pay more money for food because it's been packaged to be environmentally safe. I applaud companies that have done this on their own but companies that produce food just can't absorb the extra cost of the packaging so their product will be higher in price. Packaging has evolved from very simple with reusable container such as glass bottles for milk and soda pop to the throw away packaging of today. To change the mind set of an entire nation is a difficult task. Don't you think?
David, Omaha, NE
Posted: 6/5/2011 5:36:36 AM
But if consumers choose another's products because they like the packaging better then consumers do contribute to the decision.
o, p, AK
Posted: 6/2/2011 11:27:17 PM

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