Cultural Change Needed to Combat Plastic Waste
Recycling can help prevent the growing volumes of plastic packaging from ending up in landfills or the environment. However, according to the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS), recycling only treats the symptoms of plastic usage. The real root of the problem is the generation of plastic waste. So what is preventing consumers from reducing the amount of plastic packaging they use? IASS decided to investigate food and drink to find out. In the study, researchers identified twelve obstacles.
Consumers Know They Are Lazy
Consumers are themselves aware that personal shopping habits are the biggest hurdle. They prefer to shop in supermarkets and discount grocery stores rather than in shops that sell unpackaged goods. They see the large selection of products available in stores to be an essential feature of consumer culture, despite the fact that this is hard for traders to offer without packaging. Convenience remains a major factor for consumers, the study found. They feel it is impractical to take empty containers shopping with them.
A large number of those surveyed mentioned various benefits of plastic packaging. They find packaged goods more hygienic than bulk products and favour packaging properties such as low-weight, unbreakable and tearproof. This correlates to everyday consumer priorities, such as parents wishing to keep their children's school bags lightweight, the IASS adds. As foods packaged in plastic are generally cheaper than those with plastic-free packaging, the final major obstacle is the price.
Not Making it Easy for Consumers
IASS was able to establish that the study participants view availability, allocation of responsibility, accessibility, time and knowledge as issues which need to be solved by industry and the market to address plastic usage. Consumers feel they have no option when most foods are only available in plastic packaging. Probrands also think the industry should be obliged to use less plastic for packaging goods. In their view, since shops offering goods without packaging or plastic are more difficult to get to, shopping there is more time-consuming. Last but not least, the researchers found that probands were generally unsure which packaging options were the most sustainable.
"For unpackaged goods and products without single-use plastic packaging to become the norm, we need to adapt infrastructures, economic incentives and political frameworks", project leader and co-author Katharina Beyerl concludes. She therefore demands a basic shift in social structures and lifestyles alongside cultural change.
Source: IASS, Photo: Karolina Grabowska, Pexels