Consumers wise up to packs' environmental impact

Shoppers are becoming increasingly aware of how environmentally friendly the packaging they come into contact with is and are acting accordingly on their purchasing decisions, according to new research.

The European Consumer Packaging Perceptions study, a new report from Pro Carton, the European association of carton and cartonboard manufacturers, asked 7,000 consumers across seven countries – France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, Turkey and the UK – for their views.

The study found that media coverage on packaging waste polluting the world’s oceans has influenced the purchasing habits of 74% of Europeans, including 72% of UK shoppers. 68% of all respondents said being environmentally friendly is now more, or very important to them.

“Undoubtedly media coverage is playing a huge role in boosting awareness of the environmental issues, but hopefully also people’s personal observations might be making them wake up a little bit,” said Pro Carton general manager Tony Hitchin.

“I know that many cartonboard printers and converters are very busy working on developments and new briefs that are being given to them, so there is certainly a positivity within the industry because people are looking to make change in their packaging material.”

77% of all respondents to the survey – including 64% in the UK – said they would pay extra for a product if it meant that the packaging had less impact on the environment while 36% of Brits have reportedly already switched brands or products because of concerns about the packaging used.

Furthermore, 72% of UK respondents said they feel that UK retailers aren’t doing enough to introduce sustainable forms of packaging while 89% agreed that they would choose to shop at a supermarket or shop that was proactively encouraging suppliers to adopt more environmentally-friendly forms of packaging.

63% of UK respondents surveyed recognised cartonboard/cardboard as being the most environmentally friendly form of packaging, followed by glass with 24%. 85% of British consumers, meanwhile, said they would prefer to buy a product packed in cartonboard than plastic.

“It’s fair to say that customers are looking to reduce their use of plastic and looking at alternatives in cartonboard. Sometimes in food packaging there will be a plastic insert, so we’ve converted a few of those to using a cartonboard insert instead,” said Paul Hartwig, production director at pharma and food packaging specialist Firstan.

BPIF Cartons general manager Jon Clark added: “Cartonboard has got a great environmental story to tell when you consider that all the raw material comes from managed forests and the forests are growing at a rate of 1,500 football pitches a day.

These are messages that we need to get over to the consumer, especially the fact that when a tree is growing it’s actually absorbing and storing carbon dioxide.

“From our perspective it’s disappointing that there are readily available more sustainable types of packaging, like cartonboard, that brands could switch to straight away. There’s a lot of investigation from brands, but not a huge amount of action at the moment.”

71% of all respondents to the survey said they think their government should provide more information on environmentally friendly packaging while 90% – including 88% in the UK – said they want on pack labelling to show the packaging’s environmental status.

When it comes to attitudes from different age groups, younger shoppers are putting the environment higher up their agenda, with 80% of all 19-29 year olds asked across Europe saying that being environmentally friendly has become more important to them and their families.