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How U.K. consumers really feel about grocery packaging recycling

How U.K. consumers really feel about grocery packaging recycling
What do shoppers think about sustainable packaging? If the packaging isn't recyclable, 80% want it banned from grocery stores.

Exclusive insights into a survey of 1,000+ consumers offer comparisons to and advice for U.S. markets and brands.

How do you find out what consumers think about packaging and recycling? That’s an easy one to answer: you ask them.

But exactly how can that be done in numbers large enough to be statistically viable is an entirely different matter. However, that’s where the expertise of companies like Toluna comes into focus as an invaluable resource for brands and others wanting to get a pulse on consumers for essentially any topic, region and/or consumer segment. The company’s Insights on Demand proficiency enables a way for “businesses to obtain insight and understand constantly shifting consumer sentiment and taste in the on-demand economy.” In short, the company has available some 21 million consumers globally who will help provide poll results in hours.

James Pickles, director, corporate client sales, Toluna, responds to Packaging Digest’s questions about the firm’s U.K. Consumer Recycling Behavior Survey conducted last month.

Let’s start with some background about  the company and this particular survey.

Pickles: Toluna, which has 24 offices globally including in Wilton, CT, has significant experience in the consumer insights industry. We conduct surveys for all types of clients from consumer packaged goods companies to retailers and others. One of the many reasons we are an ideal partner in this space is the development of automated solutions for package testing, shelf testing and more. We couple this with respondent access.

We recently hosted an event where Kerry Foods, in addition to TetraPak, presented a case study. Kerry Foods spoke about the dynamic changes in the supermarket space, which was an area we wanted to learn more about on behalf of our clients.

What are the basic metrics for this survey?


  • 1,003 total respondents in the U.K. in these age brackets: 18-34 (34%); 35-54 (36%); 55+ (30%);
  • Total male respondents (35%); total female respondents (65%);
  • Respondents answered the survey on August 15th, 2018.

What’s your reaction to the results?

Pickles: The survey results indicate that both brands and grocery stores are delivering measurable results in making it easier for consumers to recycle. This is based on the fact that more than 50% of respondents state that they find it extremely or very convenient to recycle product packaging from grocery stores. In addition, close to half of respondents believe that consumer packaged goods brands do a good job in providing clear recycling labels on product packaging.

With the signing of the U.K. Plastics Pact earlier this year, grocery stores and brands should definitely allocate efforts into thinking about how consumer recycling behavior and attitudes are changing and adapt to this changing landscape. Considering that more than 50% of respondents are likely to change their grocery store preference based on the offering of recyclable packaging, retailers should definitely act on these consumer attitudes and keep these consumer choices in mind when making decisions about which brands to sell at their stores. That is the new competitive advantage for retailers of food packaging products.

What were the key findings?


  • 80%+ of U.K. consumers make an effort to recycle grocery products.
  • Only 17% of those surveyed don’t find this to be convenient—52% find it very/somewhat convenient.
  • More than 50% feel that consumer packaged goods (CPG) and fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies do a good job in providing recycling instructions.
  • Recycling is an important factor when selecting a grocery store and products purchased, and close to 60% state that a brand’s commitment to the environment makes shoppers more loyal to the brand.  

What were the most surprising results?

Pickles: Nearly 80% of respondents feel that non-recycled products should be banned from grocery stores. Similarly, almost 40% are more likely to shop in a grocery store that sells recyclable products than one that does not, almost 60% would change their store preference as a result of this.

What about that 81% always make an effort to recycle—that’s impressive. Was that expected? 

Pickles: This is a surprising percent in some markets, but not in the U.K.  This country/market has always been keen to recycle.

What are the takeaways?

Pickles: Recycling and eco-friendly choices are important to consumers.  These can drive purchase decisions, and encourage people to shop differently.  Most feel that companies/brands make recycling easy, but there is opportunity to stress eco-friendly packaging and differentiate.

What influence may there have been from the signing of the U.K. Plastics Pact?

Pickles: Likely to have been influential, but don’t I believe the results would have been significantly different.

For our U.S. audience: Can you comment on the general state of recycling in the U.K. vs. stateside?

Pickles: According to a recent survey conducted by the Carton Council of North America, 61% of Americans state that they always recycle their food and beverage cartons, compared to 80%+ of U.K. consumers who say they always make an effort to recycle grocery products.

That being said, there is not a government-wide initiative in the U.S. as there is in the U.K. with the Plastics Pact, so government involvement and endorsement are likely to encourage U.K. consumers to recycle more than U.S. consumers.

What advice would you have for brand owners?

Pickles: With close to 60% of respondents stating that a company’s commitment to the environment makes them more loyal to a particular company, brands should be at the forefront of helping to boost recycling efforts and be committed to reducing waste overall.

The full survey results can be found here.


MinnPack 2018 (October 31 – November 1, Minneapolis) is part of the Midwest’s largest advanced design and manufacturing event that brings you the latest in materials, automation, packaging and more. ___________________________________________________________________________________

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