As pressure increases on politicians to act on single-use plastics (France’s recent plastic ban for example) so the pressure increases on the plastics industry to produce greener products. While consumers are welcoming this rise in sustainable products, there doesn’t seem to be a strong rejection towards products and companies that aren’t producing sustainably.

Is there a disconnect between how consumers feel and how consumers act in terms of their purchasing decisions?

In 2020, Sea Circular surveyed 2,000 consumers and 400 food and beverage companies to determine the general perception on plastic waste across the countries of Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.[1] On average, 91% of respondents from the five countries agreed/ strongly agreed to the statement “I am extremely concerned about the extent of plastic waste issues.” However, only 49% of respondents (on average) agreed/ strongly agreed to the statement “if a product is made from non-recycled material, I am less likely to buy it.”

Respondents were then asked to respond to a series of sustainability-based actions:

[1] Sea Circular (2020). Perceptions on Plastic Waste: insights, interventions, and incentives to action from businesses and consumers in South-East Asia.

Source: Sea Circular (2020). Perceptions on Plastic Waste: insights, interventions, and incentives to action from businesses and consumers in South-East Asia.

While 59% of respondents were purchasing more products made from recycled or alternative materials, only 33% had stopped buying products that didn’t have recycled packaging. And while 33% is still an impactful number of consumers, it highlights a possible disconnect between consumers attitude towards packaging and their actions regarding it.

Sea Circular was not the only organisation to notice such a disconnect. In the USA, McKinsey & Co conducted a survey that asked respondents to comment on the importance of factors that contribute to their purchasing decisions across nine categories of consumer goods.[2] These factors were: price; brand; perception of quality; convenient access; product packaging; environmental impact; and social impact. Price was, on average, the highest ranked factor with 61% of respondents identifying that price played an important role in their purchasing decisions. Only 13,8% of respondents (on average) identified that environmental impact was an important factor for them in their purchasing decisions; even fewer identified social impact as a factor with 10,7% of respondents (on average).

[2] McKinsey & Company (2020). Sustainability in packaging: inside the minds of US consumers.

 

Source: McKinsey & Company (2020). Sustainability in packaging: inside the minds of US consumers.

But are these isolated perceptions?

McKinsey continued their survey into nine different countries (10 including the USA) and the results followed the above trend – consumers are concerned about the environmental consequences of their purchases but when it comes down to making the final purchasing decision it is not the environment on their mind.

Source: McKinsey & Company (2020). Sustainability in packaging: inside the minds of US consumers.

While research has taken place across both developing and developed countries, such findings raise the question – would South African consumers have the same disconnect and if so, to what extent?