Paper; the people's choice

30 June 2020

Results of a new European survey reveal that paper-based packaging is favoured for being better for the environment, as consumers become increasingly conscious of their packaging choices. The survey of 5,900 European consumers, conducted by industry campaign Two Sides and independent research company Toluna, sought to understand consumer preferences, perceptions, and attitudes towards packaging. Respondents were asked to choose their preferred packaging material (paper/cardboard, glass, metal, and plastic) based on 15 environmental, practical, and visual attributes. Campaign Manager Ebony Hutt discusses the survey, its results and implications with Matthew Rogerson.

Who are Two Sides, and what led to the commissioning of this project with Toluna?

Two Sides are a not for profit organisation created in 2008. Our goal is to promote the sustainable and attractive attributes of print, paper and paper packaging and dispel common myths surrounding print and papers environmental attributes. We work with our members, to spread this message across the globe in Europe (The UK, Germany, France, Italy, Austria, and The Nordics), North America, Brazil, South Africa, and Australia.

Two Sides conducts regular research & this report has been driven by increased consumer interest of packaging, due to a heightened media focus, and documentaries such as Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planet 2.

Was there a specific question or area you were aiming to address?

We wanted to convey consumers attitudes towards packaging in general – from their own preferences towards different materials, to their expectations of retailers and their own behaviours. This information will enable stakeholders in the packaging industry to consider, or potentially adapt, the packaging they are producing. For instance, the survey conveyed that 70% of consumers are actively reducing their use of plastic packaging. It is key behavioural changes like this that producers need to be aware of. Additionally, we are advocates of paper and paper packaging – so it was key for us to understand consumers perception of each material type to understand where areas of improvement might be made. For instance, 70% of consumers vastly underestimate the recycling rate of paper/cardboard packaging. As an industry, it is our duty to improve consumer awareness of topics like this.

Where were survey results in line with what you had expected and what was surprising?

We were pleased, although not surprised, that paper was preferred for its environmental attributes. Although, it was interesting to see that plastic was not preferred for any physical, visual, or environmental attributes.

Additionally, I mentioned recycling rates earlier, but it was interesting to see the obvious confusion in relation to recycling rates across all materials. The results showed consumers vastly underestimate paper, glass, and metal packaging, but over-estimate plastic packaging. It was also interesting to see consumer knowledge of environmental labels, such a The Green Dot and Mobius Loop. These two labels were well known, although they have vastly different meanings. The Mobius Loop shows an object is capable of being recycled. Whereas The Green Dot signifies that the producer has made a financial contribution towards the recovery and recycling of packaging in Europe Some other interesting results were that 44% of consumers agreed they would be willing to spend more money on a product if it were packaged using sustainable materials. 48% of consumers would consider avoiding a retailer if they knew they were not actively trying to reduce their use of non-recyclable plastic packaging. 66% of consumers prefer products ordered online to be delivered in paper packaging rather than plastic packaging.

How was the survey set up, and respondents found?

We use independent research company Toluna and set up our surveys using their online tools. Across each country (9 in total), we had a nationally representative set of respondents broken down by age, gender, and region.

What were the main results discovered about consumer perceptions towards packaging?

I think one of the strongest findings was that 70% of consumers are actively taking steps to reduce their use of plastic packaging. This potentially shows an increased awareness of marine pollution, and how our waste is impacting the environment.

The increased popularity of online shopping, particularly since the pandemic has taken hold, it was interesting to see the results relating to this subject. 73% of consumers prefer products ordered online to be delivered in a fitting packaging e.g. that is not too big for the size of the actual product.”

In relation to the efforts of retailers, an average of 30% of respondents are unsure of the efforts retailers are making to increase their use of environmentally friendly packaging. There is an opportunity here for retailers to showcase their efforts better.

What areas are consumers most educated about, and where do they lack clear communication?

Clearer communication: recycling rates, environmental label meanings, retailers’ efforts Educated: Impact of single use / non-recyclable packaging on the environment

What can packaging companies do to make their products easier to understand or use?

I’ve highlighted the confusion from consumers relating to environmental labelling and recycling rates. Particularly in relation to labels, their seems to be a need for this to be simpler and more straight forward to understand so consumers feel confident that their packaging choices are sustainable.

We run a campaign called Love Paper, which educates consumers about the sustainable and attractive attributes of print, paper, and paper packaging. Brands and packaging companies can use the Love Paper logo on their paper-based packaging to highlight those sustainable attributes – and as the campaign is supported by a £10 million advertising campaign, social media advertising and dedicated website, it’s likely consumers already have an awareness of this logo. What this allows brands & packaging manufacturers to do is clearly display their sustainable credentials, and compliment their overall sustainability efforts.

Where are retailers showing promise? What could they do better?

Our survey only asked consumers to rate retailers on a scale of 1 to 5 (5 being the most effort) in relation to the efforts they are making to increasing their use of environmentally friendly packaging. Across all retailers, none of them scored higher than 3.5/5 which demonstrates that consumers are scepical of the efforts being made.

This isn’t always strictly true and does present an opportunity for retailers to better communicate their sustainable efforts in relation to packaging, to show consumers that they are making positive changes. The benefits of retailers doing this will spread much further than just environmental!

Was there a sense of degree to which recyclability, sustainability, compostability ranked (it was primary reason for buying product, they would spend x amount on the best solution. etc?)

The survey did not go into this much detail on those specific attributes – but we do know 44% are willing to spend more if sustainable materials are used. I think we can assume that these factors are important to most people.

What, if any, poor perceptions of paper were there that consumers had?

Consumers do not believe it provides protection for the products it packages or is robust. Product protection is particularly important, especially when going through a global pandemic. It is something for paper-packaging manufacturers to consider, whether that be innovating to improve protection, or better communications relating to it’s protective qualities.

Additionally, the actual recycling rate of paper packaging is 85%, the highest when comparing to plastic, glass and metal. However, 70% of consumers believe it is 59% or less, which shows there is a long way to go to educating consumers on this topic.

Whats next for the campaign? How can this information best be used?

We want the findings of this survey to be shared as widely as possible to brands, retailers, packaging manufacturers and so on. The survey findings provide clear understanding on consumers perceptions, and we hope this will inform industry to make or influence decisions.

Additionally, we are continually growing support for Two Sides in the packaging sector, with members such as Smurfitt Kappa and Mondi, we hope that providing valuable information like this, we can continue to grow support within the packaging industry.

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