Consumer concern about the environmental impacts of single-use plastics is part of a broader consumer concern about product packaging. Consumers can see that packaging makes up the largest bulk of their household trash. They are also frustrated that packaging, particularly plastic packaging, is not easier to recycle.
Efforts are being made to make it easier for consumers to know what to recycle, but those efforts are also highlighting that lots of common packaging materials like candy wrappers, foam cups and many plastic to-go containers are not recyclable.
Consumers want better packaging options, and they increasingly believe that it is up to manufacturers and retailers to use packaging that can be easily recycled or has a smaller environmental footprint.
A 2019 Nielsen report suggests that the grab-and-go convenience culture will have to offer more sustainable packaging because consumers are adopting a “zero-waste mindset” where their choices will not create environmental problems. Some convenience retailers are responding:
- Kum & Go is shifting its food packaging to more sustainable paper containers that maintain the quality of the food product while using 90% less plastic.
- 7-Eleven announced plans to shift packaging for 100% of its private label brands to “eco-friendly packaging” by 2027.
By monitoring consumer and regulatory interest in more sustainable packaging, and by remaining committed to its own desire to improve its triple bottom line, Rutter’s was ahead of the curve on polystyrene foam packaging bans.
The York, Pennsylvania-based convenience chain with more than 75 locations in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Maryland, predicted early that growing customer concern about foam containers would turn into regulatory requirements prohibiting it. As a result of its proactive efforts, Rutter’s switched to a “premium green packaging that can easily be recycled” well before legally required to do so.
Announcements about the new packaging and reactions from customers generated lots of positive publicity for the company, further establishing Rutter’s as a convenience store that cares about the community it serves.
Consumer packaged goods companies are also responding to consumer concerns and investigating ways to improve the environmental performance of their product packaging:
- Coca-Cola unveiled its first-ever beverage bottle made from 100% plant-based plastic, excluding the cap and label, using technologies that are ready for commercial scale.
- PepsiCo set a goal for 100% of its packaging to be recyclable, compostable, biodegradable or reusable by 2025.
- Keurig Dr Pepper is a founding member of The Recycling Partnerships’ Polypropylene Recycling Coalition to create scalable solutions to packaging and system challenges with No. 5 plastic.
- Nestlé is investing $30 million in the Closed Loop Leadership Fund, the private equity fund of circular economy investment firm Closed Loop Partners, to lead the shift from virgin plastics to the use of food-grade recycled plastics in the United States.
- By 2025, Mars set a goal that 100% of its plastic packaging will be reusable, recyclable or compostable, and a 25% reduction in virgin plastic use.
- Hershey set a goal for 100% of its plastic packaging to be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2030.
- Carlsberg Group created the Snap Pack to reduce plastic usage by eliminating the traditional plastic wrapping.
- By 2025, Anheuser-Busch InBev set a goal for 100% of its products to be in packaging that is returnable or made from majority recycled content.
Many of the operational improvements that convenience retailers adopt to reduce costs and their environmental impacts are invisible to consumers—unless the retailer calls attention to them. The products that a retailer chooses to sell, however, can be a much more visible indicator that the retailer cares about customers who are trying to be more sustainable in their personal lives.
Some of the product categories that attract sustainability-minded consumer attention include—but are not limited to—certified coffee, refillable/reusable beverage containers and plant-based meat-like products: