The Eco Value Of Cartons

Stuart Pritchard July 26, 2019

TONY HITCHIN, General Manager of Pro Carton, the European Association of Carton and Cartonboard Manufacturers looks at the eco-credentials of cartonboard…

Two thirds (68%) of Europeans claim being environmentally friendly is now more, or very important to them, according to a major, independent study of 7000 European consumers in seven countries. The research gauged consumer views on different packaging formats to understand their attitudes to packaging sustainability and investigated shopper views on the importance of leading an environment-friendly lifestyle, whether they’d be prepared to pay more for brands in sustainable packaging and their thoughts on government, retail and brand accountability.

Consumer views, in the main, appear driven by a greater awareness prompted by high-profile media coverage: 74% of Europeans claim media focus on the issue has influenced their purchasing habits. And it’s no surprise that younger consumers are putting the environment higher up the agenda. A resounding 80% of all 19 to 29 year-olds across Europe reported that being environmentally-friendly is now more important to them and their families.


The ‘5 Rs of Responsibility’

Of course, actions speak louder than words and, in fact, 69% of all Europeans claim to be recycling more waste than they were just a year ago. Just over half (52%) of all Europeans say they seek out products in environmentally friendly packaging.

The arguments for choosing cartonboard/cardboard are compelling. It is the most sustainable packaging alternative, plus, of course it comes from trees grown in sustainably managed forests. It is not only renewable and fully recyclable, but also biodegradable, making it the perfect example of the circular economy.

The results add further weight to our calls for expansion of the ‘3 Rs of Recycling’ – currently reduce, reuse and recycle, to the ‘5 Rs of Responsibility’, with the addition of renew and replace. This means choosing packaging materials that are truly renewable and encouraging brand owners and retailers to act responsibly to replace materials that are not sustainable.

Understandably, shoppers consider packaging’s primary function is to protect its contents, however across Europe there is also a growing awareness of the importance of protecting the environment. ‘Easy to recycle’ ranks second as the most important packaging feature in every country surveyed, with 63% of respondents listing it as one of the top three attributes, followed by ‘made of natural, renewable materials’.


Consumers say they’re even willing to pay more if it means helping the environment

One of the most encouraging things to come out of our survey is the fact that consumers say they are willing to shun items they believe are not packaged in sustainable materials: 75% of European consumers say the environmental impact of a products packaging affects their purchasing decision. Even better is the fact that so many shoppers are militant when it comes to product packaging choice. Across all seven countries, more than half (52%) of consumers say that environmental concerns have prompted a switch. Younger shoppers are more pro-active than most, with 62% of 19 to 29 year-olds saying they have switched brands because of packaging concerns, compared to only 35% of over 60s. This only further highlights that businesses cannot afford to ignore consumer sentiment.

Drilling down to the reasons why shoppers chose to switch brand or products, the study underlines that 52% of all respondents say it is because packaging is non-recyclable. The prevailing consumer trend toward more environmentally friendly packs means that if shoppers have a choice they are much more likely to choose the sustainable option, even if it costs a bit more. Four out of five consumers (81%) surveyed say that given the choice, they would choose cartonboard/cardboard packaging over plastic.


Despite the strides forward brands and retailers are making when it comes to packaging, only just over a third (36%) of Europeans believe they are doing enough. Clearly, retailers and brands need to take note. Any that do not make sustainable packaging a priority are very likely to take a hit, with a resounding 91% of European consumers say they’d choose to spend their money with a supermarket or shop that was proactively encouraging suppliers to adopt more environmentally-friendly forms of packaging and policies.

Consumers say they’re even willing to pay more if it means helping the environment. An incredible 77% of all respondents – well over 5000 people in our 7000 strong survey, say they are willing to pay extra for packaging that has less impact on the environment! Some claim that they are prepared to pay significantly more: 20% of all respondents believe an increase of in excess of 10% is acceptable, and 5% are not put off by a rise of 20% or more.

The results speak for themselves. Consumer attitudes are changing and there is a growing consensus that brands and retailers need to take further action and make the necessary changes. There are plenty of opportunities for the industry to challenge the status quo, to replace non-sustainable packaging with paper-based materials and in doing so make the changes necessary to future-proof their products to the benefit of the environment – and their profits.