Perspectives on the Topic of Plastics

A representative survey commissioned by the Industrievereinigung Kunststoffverpackungen (German Plastics Packaging Industry Association) and PlasticsEurope Deutschland, the plastics producers’ association, comes to the following conclusion: perceptions of plastics vary.

Germans have a mostly ambivalent relationship to plastics and their use. On the one hand, consumers appreciate the special advantages of plastics and their indispensability in many areas. In addition, they see the progress made, for example, in recycling or in the circular economy, and they are aware of their own contribution to this, such as in the correct separation of waste. On the other hand, plastic packaging is often associated with environmental pollution. And the contribution of plastics to resource conservation and climate protection is also little known. These are the findings of a representative Civey survey commissioned by the German Plastics Packaging Industry Association and PlasticsEurope Germany, the plastics producers’ association.

Plastics are indispensable in many sectors

More than 60 percent of respondents consider plastics indispensable in the medical and healthcare sectors, 54.5 percent in the computer and electronics sector and 47.4 percent in vehicle manufacturing, followed by the household and hygiene sector at 38.4 percent and food at just under 31 percent.

Progress in recycling

When asked about the biggest advances in plastic use, about 30 percent of consumers see that the plastic material used can be better recycled. Twenty-eight percent of respondents also see progress in the reusability or recyclability of plastics. Just under a third said they had not noticed any progress.

Potential of plastics to conserve resources not perceived

The connection between plastics and their active contribution to resource conservation is known to only slightly more than 10 percent of citizens. And only just under 15 percent state that plastics can contribute to climate protection. The biggest problem with the use of plastics is seen by 63.5 percent of respondents as marine pollution. The second most common problem perceived is microplastics with around 57 percent, followed by careless throwing away in third place with around 47 percent.

“Unfortunately, the term plastic is often associated with the negative aspects, which are mainly visible at the utility end. That’s why plastic is not infrequently seen as an enemy of the environment. When in fact plastic packaging is sustainable and climate-friendly,” says Mara Hancker, Managing Director of the Industrievereinigung Kunststoffverpackungen e.V. “The results of the survey therefore confirm that we should continue our educational work and open communication. A differentiated view is urgently required, blanket plastic bashing inappropriate. After all, plastic as such is not the problem, but how we deal with it. A rethinking is needed here – from industry to consumers.”

“Why plastic is one of the most important materials for climate and environmental protection is not understood by many people. One minute everyone is talking about the waste problem and now plastic is supposed to be the solution to save CO2 and make power generation, house construction, and mobility greener. This is not easy to understand,” says Ingemar Bühler, CEO of PlasticsEurope Deutschland e. V. Bühler adds, “Our task is to answer the many questions and face the criticism, but also to explain why we urgently need plastics for wind turbines, e-cars, and recyclable consumer products.”

Other results of the Civey survey

For more than 40 percent of respondents, hygiene aspects of product packaging are particularly important. 38.3 percent also consider the protective function of the packaging – for example during transport – to be particularly important. 57 percent of consumers also state that they use plastic packaging most to keep food fresh for longer. In second place, for 41 percent of respondents, comes the protection of products during transport and storage. The reusability and environmentally friendly design of the packaging are also particularly important to around 35 percent of citizens.

Two other positive aspects of plastic packaging, namely longer shelf life and lower weight, are only favored by just under 20 percent of respondents in each case. All these functions of plastics help to protect resources and thus reduce CO2 emissions, but many of the citizens are not aware of this. This is because only 5.4 percent of respondents associate plastics with climate protection – i. e. the potential for avoiding greenhouse gases. For the study, 2,500 online interviews were conducted in June.

The topic of plastics is also a major theme during FACHPACK. Exhibitors from the industry present themselves at the major packaging exhibition, which will be held live in Nuremberg and with its digital extension myFACHPACK from September 28-30. At the PACKBOX forum, representatives of the IK Industrievereinigung Kunststoffverpackungen will speak on the topic of “Plastics – challenge or solution approach?” on September 29, starting at 2 p.m., i.e. on the second day of the exhibition.

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