Skip to main content
Research Centre

Why focusing on packaging origin and end of life is needed

By April 16, 2020August 27th, 2020No Comments

Plastic packaging and its impact on marine life remains a key concern amongst consumers, but too much attention is placed on end of life attributes. 

Is it time to shift our attention to earlier life stages of packaging material? 

Plastic packaging is a major concern for British consumers and a survey by INCPEN (Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment) and WRAP illustrate that in the past year, worries have increased amongst more than half. Most pressing are the impacts of plastic packaging on marine life, whether it ends up in landfill, and difficulties and inability to recycle.

The results of the study reveal that what consumers are most worried about is what happens to packaging once it has fulfilled its purpose. Focus on end of life resonates with consumers from other countries too. A study looking at perceptions of environmentally friendly packaging published in the Journal of Cleaner Production found that French, German and American consumers identify ‘environmentally friendliness’ predominantly according to their end of life characteristics. For example, less packaging, recyclability, biodegradability and reusability were most often associated with ‘green packaging’. Least common associations were made with earlier life stages, such as energy efficient production, carbon footprint, use of non-toxic materials and material origin such as renewable resources (i.e corn, sugar) and recycled materials.

While there are some indications that UK consumers are coming around to the idea that origins do matter (i.e. perceived usefulness of packaging made from recycled materials increased by 14%, from 19% in 2012 to 35% in 2018, (WRAP) – a disproportionate focus on end of life has created a troubling blind spot. For example, a lifecycle study suggests that the production of recycled plastic releases up to 24% less carbon into the atmosphere than the production of virgin or new plastic. Though more research is needed as methodologies vary across studies, by leaving to wayside other stages of the packaging life cycle we risk losing out on major environmental benefits.