A SNAPSHOT: The Consumer Lens on Packaging 2021

22 April 2021

Packaging is a constant part of daily life for all consumers. Whilst this allows for fresh and portable products, the rise of single-use packaging, especially those made from plastic, is having disastrous effect on the environment and our health 

As a contribution to Earth Day 2021, that has a vision for “the world to hold sectors accountable for their role in our environmental crisis while also calling for bold, creative, and innovative solutions,” Consumers International launched a snapshot of the current consumer journey when purchasing everyday goods and the sustainability choices they are faced with.  

On World Consumer Rights Day 2021, it was highlighted that consumers want and are demanding change in making sustainable choices more readily available and accessible for all. Nearly 74% of consumers in Europe, the United States, and South America are willing to pay more for sustainable packaging. 

Inspired by Which? research, assessments were conducted on the packaging of 11 internationally available branded products across nine countries. The aim was to understand the unique consumer experience of recycling and the sustainability choices they are faced with. 

This research was led by nine Consumers International members in India (CAG), United Kingdom (Which?), Brazil (PROTESTE), Australia (CHOICE), New Zealand (Consumer NZ)Portugal (DECO), France (UFC Que Choisir), Malaysia (FOMCA), and Hong Kong (Hong Kong Consumer Council) – representing around 1.8 billion consumers

Across all nine participating countries, it was found that consumers were facing packaging that was misleading, unclear, and not recyclable in practice. Unequal access to adequate recycling infrastructure across and within countries fails consumers who are often motivated and willing to recycle. 

As a result, the research highlights the urgent actions needed from companies, governments, and standard setters to apply a consumer rights lens to create an accessible, comprehensive, and effective consumer recycling experience. 

To ensure this piece of research reflects all regions, Consumers International also reached out to the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe. Due to capacity, CCZ was unable to participate in carrying out the research. However, they still shared insightful comments on the current consumer experience with packaging in Zimbabwe. They noted that plastic packaging accounts for nearly half of all plastic waste and do not meet the biodegradable standard. Such packaging is often discarded in landfills or in the environment 




Recycling is not working: Consumers in all nine countries are unable to easily recycle all products in practice. On average, 35% of the packaging weight across all 11 products is not easily recycled in practice, even for consumers who are motivated to recycle 

Burden of responsibility: No product was labelled clearly across all nine countries. There was misleading, unclear, and confusing labelling leaving consumers with limited choice at purchase and at recycling. 

Unequal access: Packaging recyclability and labelling information varied across the nine countries. There is a vast difference in how easy it is to recycle the 11 product’s packaging in practice across the nine countries 

Voluntary commitments: Progress towards sustainable packaging is inconsistent. Companies can help make recycling in practice easier for consumers by upholding their commitments. 

Recyclability in practice: In some cases, products were labelled as recyclable, but not recyclable in practice. To be truly sustainable, the full journey of the product must be taken into account. 




Now is a critical time to address the sustainability of everyday packaging. The marketplace must respond to consumers’ desire for change in making the sustainable choice easier for all. It should no longer fall on the shoulders of consumers to make decisions, based on poor and confusing packaging information. 

Companies, governments, and standard setters must apply a consumer rights lens to deliver a safer, fairer, and more sustainable marketplace for all.