On January 8, 2019, the think tank Green Alliance published a report titled “Plastic promises: What the grocery sector is really doing about packaging” that reviews public and retailer perceptions and behavioral changes towards plastic packaging and cautions against a uninformed switch to other materials. An article published by news provider Food Navigator informed that the report is largely based on anonymous interviews conducted with supermarkets and brands. It presents that 48% of surveyed 18-34 year-old consumers claimed to have switched from their usual food brands due to concerns about packaging, however behavioral surveys are reported to show this is not yet the case in practice. “A lot more consumers are saying that they are already avoiding what they understand as single use plastics – that is a clear and consistent trend coming through our research. The challenge is that’s claimed behavior and is not necessarily coming through as actual behaviors from consumers yet,” one study is quoted as saying.
The survey of brands and retailers found that consumer attitudes are driving them away from single use plastics and towards alternative materials such as paper, compostable, and wooden packaging products and tableware. Survey respondents noted that these changes are being made quickly and expressed concern about a lack of consideration for the potential impacts of the alternatives themselves. One supermarket representative is reported to have commented that “there are people who would like us to take plastic out of the soft drinks section and replace it with something else like glass and Tetra packs, which aren’t recycled [in the area].” The report writes that “this awareness of potential unintended consequences is perhaps one reason why the shifts have been slower than might have been expected” and noted that a few brands and retailers wanted to avoid “kneejerk reactions” in their packaging decisions.
The report also found consumer confusion regarding the meaning and proper use of alternative packaging such as those labeled as compostable or biodegradable, and brands reflected a desire to increase the standardization and transparency of such alternative materials. “One of the challenges that we have as a retailer is that there is no agreed methodology for assessing the impacts of materials. We would like to see people working together to come up with a consistent methodology that would stop any sort of misleading claims to consumers.” Overall, the Green Alliance found that the surveys carried out “painted a picture of companies under considerable and justified pressure to change.” It emphasized that “solutions must address the systemic problems of our throwaway society, to avoid the risk of simply substituting current environmental problems with new ones.”
Katy Askew (January 9, 2020). “‘Kneejerk’ reaction to plastics puts circular economy at risk: ‘This report is a reality check’.”
Confederation of Paper Industries (January 9, 2020). “Andrew Large, CPI Director General responds to Green Alliance ‘Plastic promises’ report.”
Anne Marie Mohan (January 15, 2020). “Kneejerk Reactions to Plastic Packaging Can Cause Unintended Consequences.” Greener Package
Green Alliance (January 8, 2020). “Plastic promises: What the grocery sector is really doing about packaging.” (pdf)