SustainabilityGreenwashing of packaging: Sustainability claims are difficult to verify for consumers

Today, the German consumer association in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) published the results of its study about sustainability claims, so-called 'green claims', on product packaging. The results show that potential customers are rather inclined to perceive certain products as sustainable due to their packaging design, even if the opposite is true.

As part of the EU and state-funded project 'MehrWertKonsum', a total of 60 packaging, including 33 drugstore items and 27 grocery products, were examined and subsequently discussed among consumers under scientific supervision.

These are more details:

  • Products with a 'natural' and green packaging design including several seals and claims such as 'Made for recycling' or '65 percent less plastic' suggest a special sustainability quality to consumers.

  • For instance, outer packaging made of supposedly sustainable paper, such as for toothpaste tubes, appeared as rather environmental-friendly to respondents, even though the unnecessary packaging wasted additional resources.

  • Moreover, the 'waste paper' look as often used for organic milk cartons is problematic if it is made of composite materials that consumers falsely perceive and dispose as waste paper, which, however, has to be discharged in the recycling bin.

  • With a very high share of recycled plastic of more than 90 percent, the packaging of different drugstore products convinced potential customers the most. Explanations and links to sustainability concepts such as 'social plastic', which is collected from the environment and then reused, also increased the credibility for consumers.

  • However, percentage and projection labels on large packaging units explaining the amount of production materials saved in contrast to smaller units were difficult to understand for consumers and positive contributions to sustainability were not instantly recognizable.

Philip Heldt, environmental expert at the consumer association NRW, said: "Since there are no standards for sustainability claims on product packaging, consumers are left to their own devices when making the assessment. This leads to effects of 'green washing' as well as incorrect waste disposal."

Source: Consumer association NRW

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