Fast Food Brands Have a Lot to Gain From Reducing Single-Use Packaging Waste

A new Adweek-Harris Poll survey shows 4 out of 5 consumers are concerned about pollution and animal safety

By KATHRYN LUNDSTROM | Adweek | April 26, 2021

As a follow up to the Earth Day brand buzz last week, Adweek partnered with Harris Poll on a survey to gauge consumer sentiment on proposed solutions to one small piece of humankind’s impact on the climate: littering and pollution from single-use fast food containers.

This year, brands like Starbucks, Popeyes and Burger King have already built new phases into ongoing initiatives to limit waste from single-use food containers by introducing pilot programs for reusable containers and phasing out polystyrene (commonly, and incorrectly, known by the DOW Chemical brand name, Styrofoam, which actually refers to a construction material).

So how are consumers feeling about all of this? According to the new survey data, the vast majority does worry about pollution and waste from fast food containers—and most are willing to try a variety of solutions to fix it.

Consumers are most concerned about pollution and animal safety

When asked about quick-service restaurants‘ (QSR) impact on the environment, 81% of survey respondents included littering and pollution in their list of concerns and 80% noted animal safety.

Other concerns listed by consumers included water usage (70%), burning excess inventory or waste (69%), using synthetic or genetically modified ingredients or materials (69%), recycling of company materials or packaging (69%) and single-use materials like polystyrene, plastics or cleaning wipes (68%).

How QSRs address pollution and waste affects consumer opinion

Most consumers (60%) said knowing that a QSR was polluting or contributing to litter in public spaces would lower their opinion of the brand and 57% said they’d be less likely to buy from it.

But on the flip side, brands also have a lot to gain from improving their contributions to packaging-related waste: 55% of respondents they’d have a better opinion of a brand that phased out polystyrene containers, and 62% said they’d have a better opinion of a brand that switched to recyclable packaging and utensils.

A narrow majority of respondents (51%) also said they’d be more likely to buy from brands that stopped using polystyrene, and 55% said they’d be more likely to buy from brands that used recyclable packaging and utensils.

Gen Z’s most open to testing reusable packaging—and most likely to frequent QSRs

Most consumers (55%) said they’d be willing to consider a reusable or returnable container program to address packaging waste at QSRs, but millennials and Gen Z were most willing (77%).

Still, 55% of respondents said compostable or biodegradable packaging would be a better alternative than returnable or reusable options, and 53% said recyclable products would be better. Concerns related to the cleanliness of returnable or reusable packages pose an issue for 55% of respondents, while 48% are turned off by the potential added cost.

Around half of consumers said that a discount would help incentivize programs to reduce waste, but just knowing there was a quantifiable impact on waste reduction and resource conservation was a strong motivator for 60% of respondents.

Half of respondents also said they visit a QSR at least once a week, but parents (65%) and Gen Z (67%) turned out to be the most loyal consumers.

Read the full story at Adweek.