Consumer backlash against unsustainable packaging despite industry efforts to improve

The vast majority of British consumers still think companies use too much packaging despite industry evidence showing a slight reduction in materials used to deliver products.

New research of 2,000 adults across the UK commissioned by the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), found that 85 per cent of consumers still believe companies use too much packaging, slightly down from research commissioned 12 months ago when the figure stood at 88 per cent.

Amazon has come ranked as the worst offender for excess packaging, among 52 per cent of those polled. This compares unfavourably with the research from 2019, when 47 per cent identified the online retailing giant.

On the other hand, supermarket chain Tesco saw a drop in the proportion of people identifying it as having the least sustainable approach to packaging, down from 14 per cent to 11 per cent.

CIM’s Director of Marketing, Gemma Butler commented: “We wanted to see how things had changed in the last year, in terms of excess packaging. While it’s positive to see a slight drop in how many people believe companies are over-packaging their goods, there are a lot of caveats.

“We know the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have changed buying behaviours, and there has been a considerable increase in online purchasing which means more home deliveries. So even where companies have improved their packaging, the increased volume and frequency of purchases will naturally push up the amount of packaging in circulation. 

“However, with over a third of people saying they judge companies based on the ethics of their packaging, there are still serious implications for brands not living up to consumer expectations, and marketers must take note.”

In 2019, eight in 10 adults (80 per cent) said they would like to see more done by large companies to promote sustainable packaging. However, in 2020 that figure has dropped as low as 62 per cent, as people’s priorities have shifted according to the OnePoll research.

The survey commissioned this year also found a quarter say that as long as their product is protected by the packaging, they don’t mind if there’s excess packaging. But on the other hand, 35 per cent admit they ‘judge’ companies based on the ethics of their packaging.

Three in 10 of those surveyed say they’re willing to spend more on a product if it comes in more sustainable packaging. And on average, they’d pay 18 per cent more if they knew what they were buying resulted in a more positive impact on the environment.

Brands, particularly in the retail, beauty and food sector, are leading the charge when it comes to innovative solutions around excess packaging. Three examples of sustainability initiatives recently introduced in this space are:

  • Primark introduced brown paper bags that can be turned into wrapping paper.

  • Co-Op announced that 35 of its stores will be fitted out with eco-refill stations for products such as sanitisers.

  • Adidas partnered with Parley Ocean Plastic to create sustainably made sportswear and committed to use 100% recycled polyester in their products by 2024. 

Gemma Butler added: “It’s interesting to see how attitudes towards recyclable packing materials have changed in the last year. 

“For many, there is definitely the recognition of a need for companies to make a change, but this continues to be offset against the convenience factor that consumers have become so used to. It is clear that there are huge opportunities for brands that can offer innovative ways to help customers reduce, reuse and recycle their plastic and excess packaging consumption. 

“As ever, the responsibility should lie not entirely with the consumer, companies need to continue to take the lead in developing sustainable solutions and work closely with their marketing teams in communicating these initiatives both informing and educating consumers and driving more responsible behaviours across all parts of the stakeholder chain.”

The study of 4,000 adults (2,000 in 2019 and 2,000 in 2020) found: 

Worst offenders in the eyes of consumers for using excess packaging in 2019:

  1. Amazon- 47%
  2. EBay- 15%
  3. Tesco- 14%
  4. Sainsburys- 13%
  5. Asda- 11%
  6. ASOS- 9%
  7. Boohoo – 8%
  8. Pretty Little Thing- 8%
  9. Ocado- 7%
  10. Etsy sellers- 7%
  11. Misguided- 6%

Worst offenders in the eyes of consumers for using excess packaging in 2020:

  1. Amazon- 52%
  2. eBay- 14%
  3. Tesco- 11%
  4. Sainsburys- 10%
  5. ASOS – 10%
  6. Asda- 10%
  7. Pretty Little Thing- 8%
  8. Boohoo – 7%
  9. Etsy sellers – 7%
  10. Missguided- 6%
  11. Ocado- 6%

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