Consumers look to packaging for recycling info, survey finds

New research reveals that on-pack messaging plays an important role in driving recycling.

In a national survey conducted for the Carton Council of North America, Denton, Texas, by Research+Data Insights, headquartered in New York, 91 percent of respondents say they expect food and beverage brands to actively help increase the recycling of their packages. The survey of nearly 2,500 U.S. adults shows a 5 percent increase when compared with 2013 research that asked the same question.

Additionally, the research revealed the environmental issues are becoming more top of mind for consumers when making purchasing decisions. Seventy-seven percent report considering the effect of their purchases on the environment.

The survey included a nationally representative sample of Americans who reported having access to curbside recycling programs in their communities, the Carton Council says. The results were weighted to correct known demographic discrepancies. Responses were collected online between Dec. 2 and Dec. 13, 2015.

Packaging continues to play a critical role in driving perceptions about packaging. Sixty-seven percent of respondents say they would assume a package is not recyclable if it did not have a recycling symbol or language indicating that it was. The survey also reveals that a majority of consumers (57 percent) look to a product’s packaging first for recycling information before turning to other sources. The second most popular place is the local community website (34 percent), followed by the product’s company website at 28 percent.

“The survey results reiterate what we have long believed: that we must work together—the packaging manufacturers, brands and everyone in between—to ensure we are talking to consumers in a clear way about the recyclability of our products,” says Jason Pelz, vice president of recycling projects for the Carton Council of North America and vice president, environment, for Tetra Pak Americas.

 “This reinforces the importance of having the recycling logo on all packaging but especially [on] food and beverage cartons,” he says. “Since access to carton recycling has been growing tremendously in the last seven years, there are still consumers who want to do the right thing but don’t know cartons can be recycled where they live.”

Carton Council efforts include encouraging more Americans to recycle in communities that have access. Two years ago, the Carton Council convened the Carton Recycling Champions network. Comprised of 21 companies and brands that share a commitment to help prevent cartons from ending up in landfills, these companies support the Carton Council’s efforts to raise awareness of carton recycling with consumers. Denver-based WhiteWave is a Carton Recycling Champion.

“This research emphasizes the important role that food and beverage companies have to play,” says Wendy Behr, senior vice president of research and development and sustainability at WhiteWave Foods. “At WhiteWave Foods, we recognize that the opportunity to promote carton recycling starts on the packaging. That’s why it’s important to us that all WhiteWave packaging has consistent messaging so consumers are educated to responsibly dispose of a product after it is consumed.”