Consumers Demand Sustainable Packaging

Survey finds 67% of consumers want recyclable products.

April 29, 2021

Sustainable and Recyclable Glass Bottles in Bag

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Despite pandemic-related concerns about sanitation and cleanliness, consumers say they still want to buy products in sustainable packaging, reports FoodDive.com.

The recent 2021 Global Buying Green Report found that 67% of consumers say it’s important that products they purchase be packaged in recyclable material, and 67% consider themselves environmentally aware—the same share as before the pandemic. The Global Buying Green Report was produced by Trivium Packaging, a manufacturer of metal packaging.

The study found that over half (54%) of respondents consider sustainable packaging when selecting a product, and younger consumers (ages 44 and under) are leading the driving force in this trend. Among that age group, 83% claim they are willing to pay more for sustainably packaged products as compared to 70% of all consumers. At the same time though, the pandemic has caused around one-third of consumers to lower the importance they place on sustainable packaging.

Many consumers appear to be misinformed about the recycling rates of different packaging materials despite a desire for sustainable packaging. Survey respondents said they thought that 48% of metal was recycled, when in reality 64% is recycled, according to the report. At the same time, the recycling rates for glass, plastic and liquid cartons are much lower than what consumers expected. 

Trivium’s research tracks with other efforts to quantify consumers’ sentiments during this time. A 2020 study from Shorr Packaging found that during the pandemic two-thirds of shoppers who changed their shopping behaviors began to pay more attention to the packaging that they purchase. Of those surveyed, 58% reported being "likely" or "very likely" to select products that use recyclable or reusable packaging.

This holds even more true within younger generations. The most likely generation to buy sustainable products is the millennial generation. But Gen Z isn’t slacking in that category either and is becoming more willing to spend more to make sure that products meet their sustainability standards.

The majority of consumers were found by Trivium (55%) to consider plastic "harmful," and 63% connect the material with ocean pollution. Understanding the importance in the consumers’ mind, Danone and Mondelēz International, along with a number of other frozen food manufacturers, have signed on to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Global Commitment to achieve 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable plastic packaging by 2025.

But there are challenges to those plans. For example, switching to sustainable packaging materials can cost 25% more compared to traditional packaging, and some newer packaging options don’t perform as well as conventional counterparts. Consumers’ willingness to pay more for products with sustainable packaging could help the industry absorb the increased costs around making the switch.

Several consumer brands have made strides toward more sustainable packaging materials over the past year. Nestlé recently earmarked 2 billion Swiss francs ($2.1 billion) to support eco-friendly alternatives, and some manufacturers are testing packaging that uses recycled materials or swaps plastic for paper. Additionally, Circle K recently announced they would now be serving 100% sustainably sourced coffee blends.

In December, Rutter’s stores announced the introduction of new paper coffee cups featuring ThermoTouch double-wall insulation technology, eliminating the need for cardboard sleeves or double cupping. Rutter’s also was the first convenience store chain to introduce dedicated recycling bins at its stores, NACS Daily reported.

Trivium’s study suggests that there’s more work to be done in educating consumers despite the public’s desire for sustainable packaging, especially when it comes to which materials are and can be recycled. The Trivium report is based on a survey conducted with Boston Consulting Group with 15,000 consumers in Europe, North America and South America.