PA Consulting (PA), a global innovation and transformation consultancy, recently conducted a survey of 4,000 consumers in the UK and US, revealing new insights into consumer attitudes towards packaging in the quick-service restaurant industry.

The survey found that nearly four in five consumers (78%) do not prioritise products with reusable and refillable packaging, despite 80% of respondents believing in the importance of reducing plastics.

The survey also highlighted concerns over single-use plastics, with 80% of respondents feeling a collective responsibility to reduce their usage. Over half (57%) expressed worry about the amount of single-use plastic and unrecyclable materials used in takeaway food and drink packs.

Gap between intent and action

Despite these concerns, there is a significant gap between consumer intent and action. While 38% of respondents recognise the importance of being environmentally friendly, they find it challenging to incorporate this into their daily routines. Additionally, 76% do not choose products with minimal or no plastic packaging, and 77% do not choose products made from recycled or easily recyclable materials to reduce waste.

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Barriers to sustainable packaging adoption

The survey identified several barriers to the adoption of sustainable packaging, including the culture of convenience. Some 44% of respondents cited difficulty in remembering to bring reusable packaging, while 39% worried about the hassle of returning, cleaning, or storing reusable packaging.

The survey also found that financial rewards could incentivise consumers to use reusable packaging more, leading to 43% of respondents saying that they would use reusable packaging more if they received a small monetary reward for returning it, and 37% would do so if there was no fee to borrow the packaging.

Demographic differences

The survey revealed differences in motivations and engagement between different demographic groups. For example, nearly half (49%) of Baby Boomers would need assurance of reusable packaging’s cleanliness, compared to 31% of Gen Z. Additionally, 43% of Gen Zers were keen to receive a donation to a charity of their choice, compared to 38% of Boomers.

The survey highlights the need for a human-centred approach to design sustainable solutions. By understanding consumer motivations and removing barriers to engagement, businesses can encourage planet-positive consumer behaviour and leverage the full potential of sustainable packaging.