Overline: IASS Policy Brief
Headline: Strategic Policies to Reduce Plastic Waste

Many people would like to reduce their consumption of plastic packaging, but face barriers such as the limited availability of unpackaged goods and scarcity of zero-waste stores. An IASS Policy Brief presents three strategic policy recommendations that could help reduce the consumption of packaging in everyday life.

Many people would like to use less plastic but struggle to overcome barriers to change.
Many people would like to use less plastic but struggle to overcome barriers to change. Shutterstock/Oleksandra Naumenko

As part of the ENSURE research consortium, environmental psychologists at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) in Potsdam have studied how policy could help people reduce their consumption of plastic packaging for food. According to a representative survey of the German public carried out by the IASS scientists, consumers are keen to reduce their plastic footprints. 92 percent of consumers view plastic waste as a threat to the preservation of the natural environment and the foundations of life. 86 percent of the interviewed consumers criticize that many foods and beverages are only offered in plastic packaging. 83 percent would welcome more regional fruits and vegetables, 76 percent would welcome them unpackaged, and 63 percent would be willing to often or always use own containers for fresh foods. Despite this, consumers face a variety of barriers in their attempts to reduce their consumption of plastic packaging and the amount of plastic waste continues to grow.

Political action is needed to support people in their efforts to reduce plastic consumption. The researchers make three recommendations in their policy brief:

  • Message 1: Improve the availability of unpackaged groceries
    A nationwide network of easily accessible zero-waste stores is needed to promote the uptake and integration of the unpackaged concept by consumers in everyday life. We recommend the introduction of a uniform standard for the trade of unpackaged goods to support the implementation of this concept by retailers.
     
  • Message 2: Create standardized and sustainable reusable food packaging systems
    Policy should seek to promote reusable packaging systems based on the use of standardized containers combined with short transport routes, decentralized cleaning systems and optimized reverse logistics that result in more resource-efficient cycles.
     
  • Message 3: Expand regional supply systems for seasonal and organic foods
    A systemic approach should be taken to strengthen and expand food value chains at the regional level, with a focus on providing access to a regional and seasonal range of foods with a minimal plastic footprint as well as positive socio-ecological outcomes.