An interesting article from Packaging Digest caught our attention last week. The article, titled “Packaging and the environment: Shoppers say, ‘It’s not my problem,’” highlighted new research conducted by Perception Research Services (PRS) about consumer attitudes toward product packaging. The article emphasized PRS’s conclusion that consumers today don’t think environmental issues around product packaging are “their problem.” The results supporting this conclusion include that fewer consumers indicated that they think it’s their “responsibility” to recycle packaging (38 percent in 2011 compared to 42 percent in 2009), and that fewer expressed a willingness to pay extra for environmentally friendly packaging (51 percent in 2011 compared to 57 percent in 2008).
To those of us trying to solve packaging problems, this seems like a strange way to frame the issue for a number of reasons. First, recycling is only a small portion of the environmental question, as oftentimes packaging’s most significant environmental impacts result from the materials and processes used to make the package. So, the question of consumer appreciation for environmentally-preferable packaging is not fully addressed by whether or not they feel “responsible” for recycling it. Nor is this question addressed by their willingness to pay more for environmentally friendly packaging, as one of the best improvement strategies – materials reduction – should be a cost-saver for companies and consumers.
At CLEAN, we agree with the 48 percent of consumers who believe that manufacturers should take the lead on developing eco-friendly packaging. The companies making the most progress toward more sustainable packaging are those proactively communicating their packaging’s environmental attributes to consumers, including proper disposal, so that identifying and purchasing products that feature environmentally-preferable packaging becomes less of a headache.
It’s our hope that future research about consumer packaging perceptions will dive deeper into the issue and go beyond responsibility “buck-passing” to provide insight on the best ways for companies to work with consumers to deliver environmentally-preferable packaging solutions that can be easily integrated into their lives.