First of all, it is important to realise that 90% of the environmental impact of product-packaging combinations is generally caused by the packaged product, while the packaging itself is only responsible for roughly 10% of the impact. Making the packaging more sustainable therefore involves more than simply using less material for its production. If packaging design can help prevent product loss during its use, this can provide a great environmental benefit.
It is also important to prevent product loss resulting from consumer usage. You can do this by taking the question of how consumers handle the product-packaging combination into account during the packaging design process. You should make sure that the packaging does not inspire “unwanted” behaviour, for example food wastage or littering. Think of, for example, packaging materials that are hard to empty completely or packaging for beverages or food that is used out of the house, whose parts can easily become detached.
Vice versa, you can also design packaging materials in such a way that they simulate certain forms of sustainable behaviour. For example, individually packaged portions keep consumers from buying more food than they need. In trying to prevent food and product wastage, it is important to design sustainable packaging materials that are easy to empty, to ensure as little product as possible is left in the packaging upon its disposal. This process starts at the drawing board by keeping the question of how consumers will use your product-packaging combination in mind during the design stage.
A recent study carried out by the European Commission, published in February 2018, estimates that up to 10% of the 88 million tonnes of food waste generated annually in the EU are linked to date marking. In 2018, a mandate of a sub-group was established under the EU Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste to support EU activities in relation to date marking and food waste prevention. It was specifically put in place to:
- facilitate a comprehensive and informed debate through the contribution of all key players;
- analyse and recommend options (legislative/non-legislative) to improve the understanding and use of date marking by actors in the food chain including consumers as well as regulatory authorities;
- share experience and best practice in relation to date marking and food waste prevention.
Another option is to provide relevant information about the product’s shelf life. Research of Wageningen University (The Netherlands) shows that leaving out the “best before” date on products with a long shelf life reduces food wastage by an average of 12%. It also shows that, on average, 31% less food is disposed of when the “best before” date is replaced with a text like “long shelf life.”
In addition to limiting product wastage, avoiding product loss is important in order to keep the packaging’s ecological footprint as small as possible. This can be achieved by thinking about the best way to use the product and dispose of and recycle the packaging during the packaging design process. More information can be found under Disposal behaviour.
Situation in various countries
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.