Our Packaging Club Releases Paper on Separating and Sorting Cues: Are They Effective?

Do you know which packaging belongs in which bin? What if packaging consists of different materials? Retailers and producers are increasingly using separation and sorting cues to help consumers dispose of waste correctly and ensure high-quality material recycling. In a new study conducted together with the Berlin-based Verbraucher Initiative, the CSCP tested consumer awareness regarding such information strategies.

The results of the study indicate that the cues are not yet effective for complex packaging made of composite materials or multiple components. In principle, however, assistance is desired and considered helpful. “Uniform and familiar symbols with clear, colour-coded separating and garbage can cues are necessary”, summarises Belinda Bäßler of the Verbraucher Initiative e.V. “Only this way consumers can internalise the assistance”.

In an innovative experimental field test, consumers were first led to believe that they were taking part in a taste test. They were casually asked to dispose of the packaging of tasted products and observed while doing this. They were then questioned again and informed about the true motives of the field test. The test was carried with a complex multi-component coffee cup and a cereal bar wrapped in foil. Besides visible placing and clear information, the tests revealed the relevance of optical and haptical information. While the online community already highlighted a colour demarcation as potentially effective, the practical test showed that haptic elements, such as a perforation are perceived much more strongly than purely visual/textual information.

Earlier studies by the Club for Sustainable Packaging Solution (Packaging Club) already suggested that the visual and haptic design of a package can be significantly more effective – especially for correct separation – than corresponding information. Also, the appearance of a package should already clearly communicate how it is to be separated later.

This also means that materials should feel authentic to be correctly assigned. Plastic packaging with a paper-like appearance can mislead consumers and should therefore be avoided. Paper packaging with a plastic coating, as is more frequently used in the food sector, needs unambiguous information about separating and sorting. Even in the case of well-established beverage cartons, some consumers seem to remain uncertain and feel tempted to discard them in the paper waste bin.

“While separating and sorting cues may help for more complex packaging, simple mono-material packaging remains the most effective strategy for closing resource loops. This is indicated by the fact that no sorting mistakes were made with simple packaging concepts such as a muesli bar foil”, explains Stephan Schaller of the Collaborating Centre on Sustainable Consumption and Production (CSCP).

The Packaging Club is part of the initiative Consumer Insight Action Panel.

For additional details, please download the complete study in our library.

For further questions, please contact Stephan Schaller.