Findings Reveal Consumer Frustration with Plastic Packaging and Expectation for Brands to Act

Gilbert, AZ – March 22, 2022 – Footprint, a global materials science technology company focused on creating a healthy planet, today released the results of a multi-country research study examining consumer attitudes toward single-use plastics and the expectations they have of brands and retailers to provide more sustainable options. The study, which was conducted by Wunderman Thompson Intelligence on behalf of Footprint, dove into attitudes among consumers in the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany and the Netherlands, and looked at how COVID-19 played a role in those sentiments. 

The survey findings strongly underscored the significant roles that brands and retailers are expected to play in creating a more sustainable planet. Across all countries and age demographics examined, 87% of consumers agreed that companies have a responsibility to protect the planet and its people, with generation Z and millennials especially expressing a constant source of stress and anxiety about the future of the planet. Most consumers agree that climate action is urgent and see a connection to plastic as one contributor to climate change. Eighty-five percent of people said brands should play a major role in solving sustainability because they’re the ones causing the problem and a majority of respondents (78%) also concurred that companies and brands are not currently doing enough to protect the planet. In particular: 

  • 72% are dissatisfied with the amount of plastic food packaging waste they end up with at home
  • 80% say takeaway restaurants need to act faster to get rid of plastic packaging and utensils
  • 86% say grocery stores should do more to reduce the amount of plastic packaging being sold

The survey results were previewed in February at Footprint’s fourth annual Sustainability Summit, Champions of Change, where leaders from top corporations, scientists, health experts, partners and investors shared insights, new data, trends, and provided inspiration for embracing the move toward a more sustainable future.

“This new study shows that brands taking a leadership role in offering sustainable alternatives to single-use plastics have an enormous opportunity to not only make a difference for our planet, but also influence consumers through sustainable packaging,” said Footprint co-founder and CEO Troy Swope. “Not only do consumers expect companies to lead, now we’ve crossed into new territory where the majority of people surveyed will actually make choices about where they shop and what they buy based on sustainable offerings.”

Companies Have an Opportunity

When asked who should take responsibility for reducing plastic waste, 76% of respondents said companies who produce and/or grow goods, followed by grocery stores (62%), national and local governments (57%) and lastly individuals (52%).

However, consumers demonstrated a willingness to change their personal purchasing behaviors based on sustainability factors. For example: 

  • 63% of consumers are willing to pay more for products and services if they help protect the environment
  • 68% are more likely to choose a brand, store or restaurant that uses sustainable packaging 
  • 65% would switch grocery stores if they knew the store was committed to sustainable packaging rather than plastic
  • 77% are more likely to buy products if they could be sure they were packaged sustainably

Furthermore, consumers generally express negative emotions when buying products that are packaged in plastic, including “guilty,” “annoyed,” and “frustrated,” while sustainable packaging inspires consumers to feel “reassured,” “happy” and “relieved.” Brands that choose sustainable options will likely have their products associated with more positive emotions.

Sustainability Issues Cross Generational Lines

Interestingly, while Gen Z has a reputation for being the most concerned about climate change and sustainability issues, the importance of these issues is felt nearly equally across generations, with 83% of respondents saying that it’s urgent that we do all we can to tackle climate change. And 73% believe there is a direct link between how much plastic packaging people use and climate change. All generations worry about how their actions might impact future generations, with Boomers being slightly less concerned (68%), compared to 72% of Gen X, 77% of Millennials and 74% of Gen Z.

Consumers Will Make Sustainable Choices If They Are Easy to Make

When asked about their sustainable habits, consumers are most likely to say they take straightforward steps such as recycling at home (89% monthly), avoiding single-use plastic (72% monthly) and refusing plastic bags while shopping (70% monthly). 

Eighty percent of consumers like the idea of a plastic-free shopping aisle and 83% like the idea of a sustainable or plastic-free search option for online grocery shopping, while 85% support sustainable/plastic-free packaging options for takeout. Over half (53%) said they prefer to shop for their groceries online because it’s easier to tell if product comes in sustainable packaging.

“There’s a genuine opportunity here for brands to help consumers by making sustainable choices more accessible, convenient and straightforward” said Marie Stafford, Global Director for Wunderman Thompson Intelligence, who conducted the research. “This is not just about doing the right thing; there’s a powerful business case here too. We have found that most people show a marked preference for brands who are demonstrating commitment and taking action on sustainability issues.”

Survey Methodology

Wunderman Thompson Intelligence surveyed 5,000 (1,000 per market) individuals over the age of 18 in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and the Netherlands. The survey was fielded using Wunderman Thompson’s online research tool, and the panel was sourced from EMI Research Solutions. Fielding was executed between January 19 – 28, 2022.