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  • Christina Rüter

Plastic or Paper Packaging?

Real versus perceived sustainability in packaging design.




Most consumers make SIMPLE assumptions*:


Often, the sustainability assessment is subject to a subjective bias, which is based, for example, on the following assumptions:


Paper = GOOD

Plastic = BAD


This means that consumers are more likely to choose paper-plastic packaging and are even willing to pay a higher price for it - even though a mix of materials is the less sustainable solution. 


Brands are - hopefully - looking more and more for truly sustainable solutions, so what to do?


👉 For example, there is this SOLUTION:


The study* has found that a striking disruptor "certified minimal packaging" works against the distortion and then the genuinely sustainable solution is preferred!


Consumers don't judge like experts. They react SPONTANEOUSLY, SUBJECTIVELY, EMOTIONALLY.


So, brands need to "educate" so that the more sustainable choice can be made.


This has also been confirmed by a recent study** by market research institute Rheingold : 


👉 The consumer is OVERWHELMED by the complexity of the issue and wants to hand over the responsibility to the brands. 


However, seals were viewed critically. 

So it depends - once again - on it! 


The Rheingold study** summarises the requirements for sustainable packaging as follows:


🔸 Little plastic, paper please!

🔸 Don't cheat: No excessive packaging

🔸 Haptics: Little mix of materials

🔸 It should feel good: Velvety feel

🔸 Part of the cycle: Recycled plastic is better than recyclable plastic

🔸 But please keep it simple: easy to separate

🔸 Reusable and refill systems are always good, but also exhausting 

🔸 Colours: green, brown, natural tones, harmonious tonality 

🔸 Appearance: Glossy ->not very sustainable; matt -> more sustainable

🔸 Acoustics: Prefer quiet

🔸 Resealable: don't throw anything away (food waste)


Even for us, brand experts, it's a complex topic. 


With the packaging design, we trigger functional and emotional values. If we know the consumer insights, we can design the products to sell with a minimal footprint. 


Don't cheat to exploit the sustainability bias - but find real solutions.


*Paper Meets Plastic Study. https://lnkd.in/evT_rKwq

**Rheingold Study: Sustainable Packaging 21.11.23



Author: Christina Rüter

LinkedInbeitrag vom 07.12.23






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