CHICAGO, May 19, 2020 (Press Release) -As U.S. consumers become increasingly aware of the environmental impact of their packaging choices, a majority believe paper-based packaging is better for the environment, according to the results of Two Sides North America’s U.S. Packaging Preferences 2020 survey. The survey, which was conducted by independent consumer research company Toluna, sought to understand consumer preferences, perceptions and attitudes toward various types of packaging.
Respondents were asked to rank their preferred packaging materials (paper/cardboard, glass, metal and plastic) based on 15 environmental, practical and visual/tactile attributes. Overall, paper/cardboard packaging ranked highest on 11 of the 15 attributes, with 66% of respondents saying paper/cardboard packaging is better for the environment. Consumers also ranked paper/cardboard packaging highest on other environmental attributes, including being home compostable (69%) and easier to recycle (51%).
Glass packaging ranked highest among consumers on three practical and tactile/visual attributes, including being reusable (36%), having a preferred look and feel (32%) and providing better protection (29%). Nearly half of respondents (47%) ranked metal packaging highest for being strong and robust. Plastic packaging was not ranked highest for any of the 15 attributes but was ranked second highest for seven attributes.
“Interest in sustainable packaging continues to gain momentum as consumers become more aware of how various packaging materials impact the environment,” says Two Sides North America President Phil Riebel. “Our survey shows that U.S. consumers recognize paper-based packaging’s environmentally sustainable characteristics, but some areas remain misunderstood, particularly paper’s high recycling rate.”
The survey showed that paper/cardboard is correctly considered by consumers to be the most recycled packaging material, but only 24% think the U.S. recycling rate for paper/cardboard packaging exceeds 60%. In fact, 73% of all paper-based packaging in the United States is recycled, and 88% of cardboard is recycled, according to the most recent data available from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Consumer attitudes toward plastic are clear, with 57% of survey respondents indicating they are actively taking steps to reduce their use of plastic packaging. While consumers believe plastic packaging is the second-most recycled after paper/cardboard packaging, most respondents significantly overestimate the plastic packaging recycling rate, believing it to be between two and more than five times greater than the actual rate of 13%.
Metal packaging is perceived to have the third highest recycling rate and glass packaging comes in fourth. With latest available figures showing actual recycling rates of 73% and 34%, respectively, the level of recycling for these packaging materials also is widely misjudged.
The survey also found that consumers across the United States are willing to change their behavior to shop more sustainably. Nearly 4 in 10 (38%) are willing to spend more on a product if it is packaged using sustainable materials, and more than a third (36%) said they would consider avoiding a retailer who is not taking steps to reduce their use of non-recyclable packaging.
“Awareness of sustainable packaging choices is becoming a driving force in consumer purchasing decisions, which in turn is influencing businesses to rethink their packaging strategies, particularly in the retail sector,” Riebel says. “The culture of make, use and dispose is gradually changing.”
The wide-ranging Packaging Preferences Survey also explored consumer perceptions of various U.S. retailers’ efforts to increase their use of environmentally friendly packaging, awareness of forest certification and environmental labels, and preferences in shopping bag materials.
About Two Sides
Two Sides North America is an independent, non-profit organization, and is part of the Two Sides global network which includes more than 600 member companies across North America, South America, Europe, Australia and South Africa. Our member companies span the Graphic Communications and Paper-based Packaging value chain, including forestry, pulp, paper, paper-based packaging, chemicals and inks, pre-press, press, finishing, printing, publishing, envelopes and postal operations.