Consumers prefer compostable packaging, study finds

Consumers who are aware of compostable packaging options would prefer using them over plastic, a new study has found.

TIPA, a compostable packaging producer, recently conducted survey on consumer perceptions toward alternative packaging. It found that 84% of Americans are concerned by plastic waste generated from packaging. Consumer concern on the West Coast outweighs that of consumers on the East Coast. 

The survey, which polled 1,500 American consumers in three locations – California, New York, and Washington – found that sustainability-conscious consumers who are aware of compostable packaging would prefer to use them as an alternative to conventional or recyclable plastic packaging (California 54%, New York 57%, and Washington 64%). 

The US alone generates an estimated 51 million metric tons of plastic waste a year, and is the second biggest polluter in the world, after China. Of all plastic waste, approximately 40% stems from packaging. However, less than 1% of traditional flexible plastic packaging is recycled in the US; the remainder is either landfilled or incinerated. 

The survey illustrated that there are still significant gaps in consumer awareness of compostable packaging and this extends to the different types of plastic alternatives as well. Across all states surveyed, a higher percentage of respondents identify recycled packaging as the best-known alternative to conventional plastic packaging, with compostables coming in second-place, followed by reusable packaging.

Yet more than half of all American respondents view eco-friendly alternatives to traditional plastic packaging as important to their daily lives (California 60%, Washington 56%, New York 55%).   

The majority of those polled (California 75%, New York 71%, Washington 72%)  say they are willing to pay 5% more for their preferred alternative to plastic packaging for food products.

The survey also polled consumer purchasing habits across five product types: Groceries, e-commerce, health & beauty, frozen produce, and fresh produce. The results showed that Californians have the highest purchasing rate of products packaged in plastic alternatives, with significant preference among those 18-24 years old.

Fresh produce came out on top with 35% of those in California always purchasing products that utilize plastic alternatives (New York and Washington at 30%). The e-commerce sector saw the lowest frequency of consumers actively purchasing goods that utilized sustainable packaging – just 19% of Californians, 15% of New Yorkers, and 11% of consumers in Washington.

“As the plastic pollution crisis is projected to triple by 2050, we are starting to see consumer concern about plastic waste significantly increase,” said Daphna Nissenbaum, CEO and co-founder of TIPA.

“This concern is translating into action as consumers increasingly demand sustainable alternatives from the brands and stores they buy from. I believe that the more US consumers know about compostable packaging, the more likely they are to prefer it. That is why we constantly drive initiatives, like this survey, to increase awareness that can fuel further adoption of compostables — a sustainable substitute for flexible plastics, which are virtually impossible to recycle and mostly end up as pollution, causing major detriment to the environment.”