Publications Themes

Disposal behaviour


Consumers often have a different perspective on packaging materials than packaging developers. They are quick to view packaging materials as waste. Consumers may also feel annoyed when disposing of packaging materials, for example because they are left with a lot of material to get rid of or because the packaging is hard to separate properly upon disposal. Such feelings of annoyance may result in negative brand associations.

It is therefore important to keep the consumer experience regarding the disposal of packaging materials in mind. This can be done by taking the sustainability and the disposal phase of packaging materials into account during the design process, for example by using fewer raw materials and by looking into where the packaging ends up after use.

The housing situation may have an impact on how collection is organised as well. In high-rise residential buildings, residents have less space to store their separated waste while those who live outside the city tend to have room for large waste containers. This diversity of collection-related circumstances can affect waste separation behaviour and can potentially cause confusion among citizens.

Therefore it is important to communicate clearly with consumers about how to separate empty packaging materials upon disposal. This is important in order to improve the quality of the collected and recycled material, so it can be reused. Good communication is important in order to improve the quality of materials collected and recycled.

Logos with waste disposal instructions can help in that respect. Unfortunately no European alignment exists (yet) with regard to the use of such logos. Seeing as these symbols must be linked to local collection systems for packaging waste, which depends on how waste processing and manufacturer responsibility (EPR) is organised per member state. In the Netherlands, for example, a Disposal Guide is used.

Another issue with regard to disposal behaviour is litter. Uncontrolled discarding of packaging waste is a problem. Packaging waste that ends up on the street or in the environment is a thorn in the citizens’ side. It contaminates our living environment and can end up in rivers and seas. Read more about litter here.

Situation in various countries

Recycling logos directed at consumers do not have their legal basis in EU legislation; they are a voluntary indication to point out that a product or its packaging can be recycled. Often, these logos are linked to the producer’s participation in a producer responsibility organisation. Good practices for the use of this logo are defined by the international norm ISO 14021:2016 on Environmental label and declaration — Self-declared environmental claims.

As announced in the Plastics Strategy, the Commission will initiate work on new harmonised rules to ensure that all plastic packaging placed on the EU market is either reusable or recyclable by 2030. Combined with improving separate collection this should help consumers sort their plastic packaging waste. The Commission is at this stage not envisaging adopting binding harmonising measures on recycling symbols. While the main principles concerning waste management are set at EU level, it is up to Member States to implement them and to organise collection systems taking into account local conditions.

Multiple collection systems exist in the Netherlands. They vary per municipality. Read more about the collection systems in the Netherlands here. The Disposal Guide is an aid for informing consumers about the correct way to dispose of waste. It consists of a set of icons that can be printed on packaging in order to indicate in which waste stream the packaging or packaging element belongs.

Research by Natuur & Milieu showed that 67% of researched daily groceries packaging contains some type of waste separation instruction. The clear Disposal Guide of the Netherlands Institute for Sustainable Packaging (KIDV) is a popular option. However, incomplete, unclear or missing instructions lead to a situation where just a little over half (55%) contains an instruction that is sufficient for the consumer.


Consumer behaviour


The average consumer opens 7 to 10 items of packaging a day. Packaging affects consumer behaviour when purchasing, using and disposing of the product-packaging combination. The packaging often says a lot about the content but what about the packaging itself? Sustainable packaging can contribute to sustainable consumer behaviour. Plenty of reason to consider how packaging affects consumer behaviour when developing packaging.

Consumers are becoming increasingly vocal. Growing societal pressure is prompting more and more companies to adopt sustainable packaging solutions. Once we consider packaging from the consumer’s perspective, sustainable packaging becomes an important part of the marketing mix as well as an added value for the customer. Three stages are distinguished when it comes to consumer behaviour related to packaging: buying, use and waste disposal.


View theme


Disposal behaviour has these underlying themes: