Does compostable food packaging make sense?

Environmentally, yes. Food waste and packaging waste are large sustainability concerns. If food packaging could be composted, we would substantially reduce the amount of waste that enters into landfills. However, from the perspective of the consumer, the end-user of food products, merely making food packaging compostable does not seem to be the answer to these problems. 

Consumers are responsible for the correct disposal of food (packaging) waste, and are therefore crucial in food sustainability efforts. This is why we studied consumers’ attitudes towards sustainability, food waste, and food packaging.  


University of Reading, supported by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), a body of the European Union.


We set out to better understand consumer attitudes toward food sustainability, food waste, food packaging, and how these factors influence their food choices. Also, two different ways of communication aimed at increasing the recycling of food packaging at public events were evaluated. 

Our approach:

A qualitative study took place in the Citizen Participation Forum with 61 participants across 18 different countries in Europe. The participants were recruited through a professional panel. Participants completed a range of activities, including a questionnaire, photo-challenges, and took part in multiple interactive discussions. 

Findings in a nutshell:

We found that visual cues on food packaging is crucial for consumers to assess the sustainability of food products and how they should handle packaging waste.  Still, many consumers appear to mistrust these labels. Additionally, it seems that many participants are able to identify plastic packaging that can be recycled. Many participants express that they find recycling important and claim that they recycle on a daily basis. However, when participants were asked about compostable packaging, a large group of consumers seemed to not be entirely sure about what that means, or how it works. Furthermore, many of them expressed that they currently prefer packaging that is recyclable, rather than compostable, for a big part because they are unfamiliar with the latter. This study has made it clear that there is a knowledge gap when it comes to compostable packaging. If we want compostable packaging to become more widely accepted, we will need to help consumers better understand how it works, what the environmental benefit is over recycling, and how they can most conveniently and effectively dispose of it.  

Find out more:

Contact us to find out more about the results, or how we can tailor consumer insights to your product or company. 

We believe that understanding consumers is key to making the food system more sustainable. Successful innovation and impactful communication require a solid foundation of consumer insight. 

We are the insights partner of choice for food companies and non-profits  that aim to have a positive impact on society and our planet. Together we empower consumers to make food choices that are good for them as well as for the planet.

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