German consumers consider paper packaging to be particularly environmentally friendly. However, they tend to be suspicious of innovative products such as paper bottles. This is shown by a recent study by the University of Bonn and the Forschungszentrum Jülich. Almost 3,000 women and men from all over Germany were surveyed for the study. The results have now been published in the journal Food quality and preference.
Worldwide, nearly 400 million tons of plastic is produced annually – all cars in Europe together weigh only a little more. It is estimated that 40 percent of plastics are processed into packaging: for refrigerators, books, deodorants, but also for drinks or cucumbers. Much of this later ends up in the litter or in the environment. At the same time, production wastes valuable fossil resources and endangers the climate.
“One of the possible solutions to these problems is environmentally friendly plastic alternatives,” explains Janine Macht, a doctoral student at the Institute for Food and Resource Economics at the University of Bonn. “This includes plastic made from renewable raw materials, such as agricultural waste. Some manufacturers are also relying on innovative paper packaging such as cups or ice cream bottles. We wanted to find out what level of acceptance these alternatives are receiving from consumers and to what extent this also depends on the product packaged.”
Macht researched these aspects with her colleague Janet Klink-Lehmann and project coordinator Dr. Sandra Wenghaus of the Forschungcentrum Jülich (Venghaus has since moved on to a junior professor at RWTH Aachen-University). The researchers conducted an online survey with nearly 3,000 male and female participants from all over Germany. The sample was chosen to be as similar as possible to the distribution in the general population in terms of sex, age distribution, and education.
The researchers focused their survey on three very different foods: blueberries, butter, and vegetable oils. In addition, there were three different ways to package these products: in a traditional (but at least recyclable) plastic container, in a bioplastic container, or in a paper alternative. So there were nine different food packaging packages in total.
The respondents were now randomly divided into nine groups. Each group was shown a picture of one of these kits, along with brief information on the packaging. The subjects were then asked to indicate how environmentally friendly they thought the displayed packaging was. They were also asked about the suitability of the packaging, which they believe is suitable for protecting, transporting and storing the food in question.
A key finding: Paper packaging had significantly better environmental scores on average than packaging made from bioplastic. Traditional plastic packaging scored the worst at this point. However, respondents were skeptical about the practicality of paper packaging. They considered it well suited to protect soft fruits such as berries from damage in transit. On the other hand, as storage containers for vegetable oils, they clearly saw plastic containers in the foreground. In fact, traditional plastics scored best here.
Participants were also asked to indicate whether they would purchase the product in the packaging shown. According to the study, far more people pick berries in a cardboard container than in a plastic basket. On the other hand, vegetable oil was more attractive to purchase when it was filled in a bioplastic bottle. “So when it comes to making a purchase decision, customers look not only at the supposed environmental friendliness, but also at the appropriateness of the packaging they think is appropriate for the food in question,” says Matakht.
By the way, the study says nothing about how sustainable bioplastics or cardboard bottles really are. “In some cases, there is not even any data on the new packaging yet,” explains Machtakht, who is also a member of the interdisciplinary research area “Sustainable Futures” at the University of Bonn.
In any case, she adds, it has been difficult to make a general assessment of ecological balance. Whether plastic made from renewable raw materials, for example, is truly sustainable depends on many factors: Where the source materials come from. Whether valuable farmland has been sacrificed for production, which could then lead to further deforestation. How compostable and recyclable is the plastic?
It’s a similar story to paper packaging: its production also takes up resources and energy—sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on the location and method of production. “In principle, it is certainly best to avoid encapsulation as much as possible,” stresses the researcher. “But that doesn’t always work. Liquids need a container to be stored in. Fruits like berries will not survive transportation to the retailer or even from the supermarket to the house without protective packaging.”
However, she is convinced that solutions made from renewable raw materials could be a first step towards solving at least some problems, such as the consumption of precious fossil resources or – in the case of compostable packaging – the huge amounts of waste that will pollute our region. oceans for centuries to come.
Janine Macht et al., Environmentally friendly alternatives to plastic-packaged food: German consumers’ purchase intentions for different biological packaging strategies, Food quality and preference (2023). DOI: 10.1016/j.foodqual.2023.104884
the quote: Study Examines How Packaging Type Affects Purchase Intention (2023, May 15), Retrieved May 15, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-05-packaging-intention.html
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