Plastic Packaging in Peoples' Lives (PPiPL): Bridging the consumer attitude-behaviour gap

Lead Research Organisation: Lancaster University
Department Name: Marketing

Abstract

Why do consumers continue to purchase plastic packaging products, even when they have real concerns for the environment and tend to feel positively about more sustainable solutions? How do supply chain actors respond to consumer attitudes & behaviours in relation to the use of plastic packaging? How can we implement enhanced waste management strategies which go beyond conventional plastic packaging solutions? Focusing on the food sector, we aim to answer such questions by developing a better understanding of plastic packaging throughout the whole supply chain, from production to consumption to post-consumption.

If industry and policy are to have any realistic chance of significantly reducing plastic wastage in the UK and abroad, a thorough understanding of the functions of plastic packaging in consumers' lives is needed. However, this understanding needs to be connected to business and waste management practices, to tackle key pinch points inhibiting the drive toward cleaner, greener growth.

The interdisciplinary research will be a collaborative effort between researchers at Lancaster University (from the Management School, the Department of Chemistry, the Materials Science Institute) and an extensive network of industry partners, including: supermarkets (Waitrose - UK Plastic Pact consortium member & Booths); food suppliers (Bells of Lazonby & Butlers Larder); next generation packaging producers (BioTech Services Ltd); professional industry networks (Chartered Institute of Waste Management & Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining); waste management companies (Preston Plastics & Precious plastic); and local councils (Lancaster City Council).

We take a mixed-method approach, drawing on archival data, ethnographic techniques, multi-case study analysis, action-based research, mixed-desk and field-based research, to explore multiple perspectives on plastic packaging in the food sector.

This research speaks directly to the UK's Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging (SSPP) Challenge objectives and UK Plastic PACT 2025 targets. Working with stakeholders along the supply chain, this research will provide valuable insights to increase collaboration and shared understanding along the UK food plastic packaging supply chain in order to create a sense of shared responsibility and improved packaging options.

The novelty of this project is that it gathers insights from consumers and their plastic packaging consumption and disposal, but also brings those insights to supply chain stakeholders (producers, retailers, re-users and waste management organisations) and in so doing, develops a detailed and rich understanding of how the attitude-behaviour gap can be addressed. This would allow the team to develop practical guidance on ways to influence people's packaging behaviour. Specifically, we will provide guidance on ways that producers can influence consumers in this domain, to provide consumers with more sustainable and attractive packaging alternatives, or redesign products/operational processes that promote resource productivity and avoid plastic waste. We will also develop guidance for post-consumer packaging organisations on consumer attitudes and discarded plastic packaging indicating drivers, barriers and opportunities for alternative plastic packaging (reusable, recyclable or compostable), effective recycling, and further investment in material recapture.

For a more circular, sustainable model of manufacturing, consumption and disposal centred on next generation packaging to be developed, we need this detailed analysis of consumer behaviour around packaging, alongside a deep understanding of business and waste management practices. This holistic view of plastic packaging in people's lives will drive cleaner, greener growth.

Publications

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