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Canadians will say goodbye to single-use plastics—if it doesn’t cost more: Study

One in two consumers intend to increase food purchases with green packaging

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The vast majority of Canadians want to cut back on single-use plastics, but it will be a hard habit to break.

In a new study by Dalhousie University, 87.2% of respondents consider environmental impacts caused by single-use plastic food packaging to be important. In addition, nearly 94% are personally motivated to reduce single-use plastic food packaging because of its environmental impacts.

And while 56.6% of Canadians intend to increase food purchases that use green packaging in the next six months, only 37.7% are willing to pay more for an item with biodegradable packaging. Nearly 90% of Canadians believe plastic packaging should be changed to green alternatives, but at no additional cost.

“It’s going to be very difficult for industry to change anything if consumers don’t want to pay for eco-friendly packaging,” says lead study author Sylvain Charlebois, professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University. “[Using green alternatives] increases costs, but you know you’re never going to get a dime more from the consumer.”

Charlebois says his team knew consumers wouldn’t be willing to pay a huge premium for eco-friendly alternatives, but they wanted to find out their limit. In the study, 83.3% of respondents said they are unwilling to pay more than 2.5% extra for a food product with green packaging. “It’s very low—it doesn’t give much breathing room to the industry to move on [alternatives] at this point, other than perhaps looking at alternatives that cost as much as it’s costing now,” he says.

On the regulatory front, nearly 90% of respondents believe regulations to reduce consumption of single-use plastic packaging for food should be strengthened in Canada. If more bans are enacted, 71.8% of respondents think they should receive a discount, incentive or rebate for supporting alternative solutions.

When it comes to industry sectors, 24.6% of respondents consider food manufacturers to be mostly responsible for acting on the plastics issue, followed by food retailers and grocers (10.3%) and restaurants (3.2%).

One key recommendation for reducing single-use plastic in food packaging is that the government provides incentives for packaging technologies. “All of these technologies are very expensive and start-ups need volume,” says Charlebois. “That’s perhaps something the government should think about, other than taxes and bans [on single-use plastics]. We should focus on implementing sustainable solutions in the food industry.”

 

PLASTIC HABITS: DEMOGRAPHIC DIFFERENCES

  • 56.4% of Canadians actively shop for food with non-plastic packaging, with women more likely to do so than men (61% vs. 49%).
  • British Columbians are most likely to look for non-plastic packaging (65.4%) and respondents in the Prairies are least likely (47%).
  • The younger the respondent, the more likely they intend to increase purchases of green packaging. (Born before 1946: 51.7%; born after 1994: 59%)
  • The highest motivation to reduce single-use plastic food packaging is in Quebec (95.6%), followed by Atlantic Canada (94.6%), B.C. (94%), Ontario (92.9%) and Prairies (90.3%).

 

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