Surveys of consumers in Poland and Spain show that a lack of knowledge about food packaging symbols is hindering effective disposal practices. Consumers also expressed confusion about how to recycle mixed material packaging, such as a yoghurt pot with different materials uses for pot and lid, and the challenges associated with separating materials.

Dr Stella Lignou, University of Reading, led the survey. She said: “Consumers need really clear instructions to be able to recycle as much as possible.”

When asked, the survey respondents said that they prefer short written communication, videos and infographics, to learn new information. These are the types of communication that can therefore have an impact on consumer behaviour. The project was carried out in partnership with Aarhus University (Denmark) and other European industry partners and research institutes. It is funded by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology under the EIT Food programme.

Dr Lignou said: “Even when people know what materials the packaging includes, they still encounter difficulties, for example, whether they have to clean the packaging or not before disposing it. In Poland consumers had more disposal related issues at home but also out and about.”

Another key theme was excessive packaging of fresh produce. This may influence consumer choice, and consumers may choose products with less, or no packaging.

In Spain, there were issues with the recycling collection system, as well.

Dr Lignou said: “These results are fairly consistent with our early proof-of-concept surveys in Greece and the UK. Recycling is becoming increasingly important, as we seek to protect natural resources and reduce our environmental impact. This study gives us a good indication of the sorts of interventions that could work, across Europe.”