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Consumer Perception and Disposal of Bioplastics – A Survey

Start 9 Academy 9 Consumer perception and disposal of bioplastics – A survey

From 09.10.2023 to 11.10.2023, the Food Science Dialog, organized by the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences (HAW Hamburg) and the Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection (BJV), took place. The BFSV presented in its lecture “Packaging champion or eco-illusion? Consumers’ view of bioplastics and consequences”, BFSV presented results of a consumer survey on the perception and disposal of bioplastic packaging.

Packaging is an everyday part of our lives, performing important functions. These include portioning of products, marketability and provision of information about the contents, convenience for the consumer, marketing and protection of the products. Depending on the requirements of the contents, a package is developed accordingly and may be composed of one or more packaging materials. The combination of several packaging materials, such as different plastic films to form a composite film, can increase the barrier properties of so-called composite packaging against the contents.

In the media, plastics have a negative image, especially due to images of polluted beaches and seas. This has increased the importance of sustainability, especially with regard to plastic packaging, which is also demonstrated by the tightening of regulations in this area.
Both retailers and manufacturers are responding to this growing demand for sustainable packaging solutions. This is reflected on the market in the form of environmental claims on packaging and new packaging materials.
Bioplastics are seen as a possible alternative to conventional plastics. However, there is currently no uniform definition for bioplastics.

What is consumers’ level of knowledge about bioplastics? How do they perceive packaging made from bioplastics and how do they dispose of it?
A final thesis, supervised by Prof. Dr. Katharina Riehn (HAW Hamburg), Prof. Dr. Bernd Sadlowsky (HAW Hamburg and BFSV) and Marcella Waldner (BFSV), conducted an online survey on this topic and interviewed a total of 151 consumers aged 18 and over who have lived in Germany for at least 5 years.

The following findings were obtained from the survey:

  • Respondents indicated a medium to high level of subjective knowledge about bioplastics, but the actual level of knowledge was low.
  • Few conscious purchases of food in bioplastic packaging were noted.
  • There was an overestimation of the environmental friendliness of bioplastic packaging.
  • Composting or biodegradation of packaging was considered more environmentally friendly than recycling.
  • The use of the prefix “bio” in “bioplastic” can mislead consumers and lead to false assumptions about environmental friendliness.

Overall, the results of the survey showed that the included consumers have a distorted perception on the topic of bioplastics and also perceive them as more environmentally friendly than conventional plastics.
Overall, it is clear that consumer education on the topic of bioplastic packaging and packaging disposal should continue to play an important role in the future. Clear disposal instructions on each package could be part of the solution. Furthermore, generally applicable definitions of terms such as “bioplastics” or “plastic-free” will be necessary. As long as there is no regulated recycling and sorting infrastructure for bioplastics packaging in Germany, the BFSV believes that, as things stand, the focus should be on plastics that are classified as recyclable in the current minimum standard.

The full presentation can be viewed here (only in german)