Throughout 2022, people around the world have been challenged by various global stressors, including the lingering effects of the pandemic, inflation, and political instability. In addition, conditions are worsening in terms of climate change and the overall environment, which is increasingly impacted by overpopulation and multiplying severe weather events.
Faced with these challenges, the majority of consumers in all surveyed regions continue to step up and prioritize sustainability in their general activities and purchasing decisions to ensure a better planet for everyone.
Sustainable activities become habits for a high proportion of consumers.
We found that people in all the surveyed regions are adopting sustainable practices into their daily lives and purchases. The majority of respondents said they are carrying out more sustainable actions such as refilling bottles and containers, reducing food and packaging waste, purchasing products in sustainable packaging, and buying local.
Advice for brands: 79% of consumers are looking for products in sustainable packaging.
In addition to reusing and recycling, another way for consumers to live more sustainably is purchasing products in sustainable packaging. In comparison to last year’s report we are seeing an increase in consumers choosing packaging based on its sustainability credentials, and fewer are likely to buy products they consider environmentally harmful.
All respondents showed an interest in sustainable packaging, however younger and higher income earners are more likely to purchase products in sustainable packaging.
Both Gen Z and Millennials show a strong preference for sustainable packaging, with an impressive 76-77% of survey respondents in these generations
choosing to buy products in sustainable packaging, 7% more than the average.
Younger and higher income earners are most likely to purchase products in sustainable packaging
Sustainable packaging needed for greater variety of products.
As the positive perceptions around sustainable packaging grow and behaviors mature, consumers continue to express high interest in purchasing products in sustainable packaging across categories. Despite this growing interest, a gap exists, with more than half of consumers surveyed saying that most of the products they currently buy do not have sustainable packaging.
Looking across product categories, food and beverage products seem to be the most accessible in terms of have more sustainable packaging options today compared to other categories. Food and beverage are the categories best positioned in terms of likelihood of, and consumers see food and beverage as an entry point leading to purchasing more sustainably packaged products in the future.
Our survey highlighted differences in the commitment to sustainability – and engagement with sustainability practices – in different regions.
We found that Europeans lead in most of the sustainable practices described in the survey, while also prioritizing products in sustainable packaging. In North and South America, while respondents still feel strongly about sustainability, we see slightly lower engagement.
Europeans are most actively participating in a wide variety of sustainable practices compared with respondents in North and South America. This is most notably seen in the reuse of packaging (77%) and in reducing food and packaging waste (66%).
58% look for information on the recyclability or sustainability of the packaging on the products they buy.
Consumers in South America primarily engage in activities that protect and/or preserve nature (48%) such as water conservation, planting trees, gardening, and eliminating pollution – a rate that is higher than any other region. Although people in this region still have strong sustainable beliefs, values, and behaviors, 41% say the places where they typically shop do not sell sustainable products, compared with 22% in Europe and 24% in North America. This prevents them from adopting additional sustainable behaviors, like purchasing more products with sustainable features.
Sustainability plays an important part for North Americans as well. More than 60% consider it important to buy products in recyclable or environmentally friendly packaging and see themselves as environmentally aware consumers. However, they tend to be unsure about which sustainable features to look for in products (28%), more than consumers in the other regions.
For instance, when asked about words they associate with plastic packaging, most North American respondents associated the material with being both recyclable and harmful for the environment. This seems to indicate that they would benefit from more information around sustainable products and features.
Some misleading claims concerning the recyclability of types of packaging have led to misconceptions among consumers.
Many companies have been accused of making misleading claims about the recyclability of their packaging, which has led to misconceptions among consumers.
As a result, consumers may mistakenly believe that certain types of packaging are often recycled when they are not, and the other way around. For instance, in the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports a recycling rate of 13.6% for plastic containers and packaging, while, on average, 45% of consumers believe their plastic is recycled.
Consumer perceptions on recyclability do not always reflect reality.
Likewise, respondents perceive 45% of liquid cartons are recycled, despite a reported rate of 27%. And, while glass is most perceived as being recycled, the actual rates are lower than consumer perceptions.
In contrast to these figures, when looking at metal packaging specifically, recycling rates for aluminum (71%) and steel (66.8%) are much higher than consumers think (on average globally, 45% of respondents perceive metal is recycled). This highlights a clear need for further consumer education and truthful claims.
We found that the true benefits of metal packaging match consumer perceptions.
Despite having an inaccurate view of recycling rates, consumers in the surveyed regions see metal as having great potential as a sustainable packaging material. When asked about words they associate with metal packaging, most consumers associated the material with being both recyclable and durable.
These positive associations around recyclability and durability of metal are in line with the, sustainable benefits the material provides. As metal packaging is already very familiar to consumers, increasing its use as a sustainable packaging solution could be easy and effective.
Metal packaging is infinitely recyclable meaning the material can be recycled forever.
Metal packaging is durable, protecting contents from contamination, spoilage, and damage to deliver the highest quality product.