Eco-conscious consumers prefer compostables to recycled plastic, industry research finds

A survey of consumers across the UK released today finds eco-conscious consumers are more likely to prefer compostable materials over recycled plastics.

Commissioned by compostable packaging pioneers, TIPA, and undertaken by Insight, in-depth research among UK consumers analyses concern about traditional plastic packaging, awareness of the alternatives, and preferences among those with most knowledge.

In the UK alone, an estimated 2.5 million tonnes of plastic packaging is used every year, with much of the waste ending up in landfill, as recycling rates sit at around nine per cent. Even less is recycled in the US, with only five per cent of the 51 million tonnes of plastic waste being recycled in 2021.

The research identifies an eco-conscious cohort of 58 per cent of UK consumers who say finding alternatives to traditional plastic packaging is ‘important’. Of those surveyed who say they prefer compostable packaging to recycled plastic, 69 per cent are in that eco-conscious group.

Respondents who prefer compostable packaging are significantly more willing to pay a premium for alternative food packaging (73 per cent), compared with those who favour recycled plastics (53 per cent). 78 per cent of respondents say it is now important for firms to provide an alternative to plastic packaging.

Meanwhile, consumers purchasing fresh produce are most likely to seek out alternatives to plastic packaging, with 32 per cent saying they do so ‘all the time’ while only 16 percent of those buying goods on the internet will do so.

Daphna Nissenbaum, CEO and co-founder of TIPA says the insights from this research are clear. The more consumers know about compostable packaging, the more likely they are to prefer it to recycled materials.

She adds: “The most eco-conscious consumers understand that plastics can only ever be ‘downcycled’ and that flexible plastic packaging in particular are very difficult to recycle. These consumers are prepared to pay a small premium for compostables instead.

“The e-commerce sector is furthest behind in making the switch with so much online shopping still relying on traditional plastics. This research demonstrates that brands who want to get ahead of consumer trends should act now.

“Crucially, the UK government should prepare for an increase in the use of compostable materials and ensure they can be collected by local authorities alongside food waste. The US has already welcomed compostable packaging collections in some states, and we need the UK to follow that lead.”

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