Exploring Consumers Reliance on Plastic in Fresh Food Packaging: Adding to the Waste?

Allen, Clifford and Atkinson (2019), Exploring Consumers Reliance on Plastic in Fresh Food Packaging: Adding to the Waste?

39th International Scientific Conference on Economic and Social Development – "Sustainability from an Economic and Social Perspective"- Lisbon, 29-30 April 2019

Abstract

This paper joins the vibrant conversation on the unprecedented scale of the use of plastic in
order to package, transport and aid the consumption of fresh food. Specific focus is placed how
the UK government’s plastic free aisle pledge, highlighted in the 2018 25-year sustainability
plan, may have an impact on the already increasing levels of food waste in the UK. The current
literature fails to recognise the need to evaluate the reliance consumers have on plastics in the
purchase, transport and consumption of fresh food products. As a result, it is therefore difficult
to evaluate the impact the UK government’s plastic free aisle pledge will have on food wastage.
In order to understand the possible roles, relationships and reliance consumers have on plastics
in the purchase, transport and consumption of fresh food, this study followed an inductive
approach. Thus, building on existing research in order to conceptualise how consumers’
thoughts and behaviours interrelate with the use of plastic when purchasing, transporting and
consuming fresh food and the potential impact this could have on food wastage. The findings of
the study indicated consumers strongly rely on plastic packaging as a mechanism in which to
preserve fresh food, in order to maintain the quality for as long as possible. Yet the results
suggest consumers unconsciously rely on the information presented to them on packaging, such
as best before dates. Such statements thus seem to skew consumers’ views on what is edible vs.
what should be thrown away. This therefore suggests there is a confusing role between plastic
packaging preserving food as well as it increasing the wastage of food. The study concludes
that the effect of removing plastic from fresh produce could be somewhat negative as the
guidance consumers rely on is also removed. There is thus a need for further consideration
with regards to the operational impacts of the removal of plastic as well as the possible
perseveration techniques. A need for immediate consumer education surrounding food
handling and consumption, to minimise consumer ambiguity and the growing culture of
reliance on information on plastic packaging is also recommended to help reduce food wastage.