15th May 2020
Just before the Covid-19 breakout, single use plastic was one of the key issues being debated by companies. However, since the outbreak of Covid-19 consumers’ sentiment is significantly shifting to ‘health and protection first’, and this will potentially change consumers’ views on packaging to be more hygiene-focused rather than environmental-focussed in the near future.
Last year, GlobalData researched consumers opinions on sustainable features in packaging and found 72% of consumers said that refillable / reusable factor is quite or extremely important, while 67% ranked the same for plastic free packaging. However, if the research was conducted again after Covid-19, would these consumers view change for more hygiene-driven features and view disposable packaging as positive?
Chris Peach, Head of packaging and design at UK-Based market research agency Walnut Unlimited told Packaging Gateway: “With empty shelves in our supermarkets, Covid-19 has already had an impact on our shopping habits. In recent months, we’ve seen a trend of removing unnecessary packaging, particularly in fresh produce where plastic has been removed and fruit and veg is sold unwrapped.
“As we become increasingly more aware of germs being transmitted through surfaces, we will begin to ask ourselves who else has touched that banana or apple, and will we shun these unwrapped products in favour of the relative safety and security offered by a plastic wrap?”
To respond to the concerns over the spread of Covid-19, food products that are not usually in packaging are now packaged to protect them from the exposure of the virus.
In a statement released last month, Plastic Industry Association President and CEO Tony Radoszewski said: “Plastics have been the material of choice in the medical field for decades and we live healthier, longer and better because of these materials. The global plastics industry stands ready to assist public authorities and public health advocates in making sure our materials and products are on the frontline of combating the spread of coronavirus.”
Plastic material offers many functional properties such as being safe for food, flexible, transparent, opaque, and chemical and heat resistant. Therefore plastics provide a solution for a variety of modern requirements. Without plastic packaging to serve all these needs, it becomes very difficult (and often impossible) to transport and utilise a wide range of products people rely on every day such a food and medical supplies. Alternatives are available but may not provide the same properties, for example, paper packaging in many instances is not weatherproof therefore may not be suitable if there’s a risk the package being exposed to water or the weather. This can result in items being damaged and subsequently returned or disposed of because they are not fit for purpose.
Companies concerns were around educating consumers about ‘good’ plastics however, with ‘health and protection’ first approach by consumers they may be more understanding of a companies choice of material for certain applications.