Plastic straws rank low among consumer concerns

Plastics guilt being erased

What do you feel guilty about? Since you’re reading PlasticsToday, you’re obviously connected to the plastics industry in some way, which means you are probably smarter than the average bear when it comes to plastics technology. A new survey of 2,121 consumers in 25 cities across the United States conducted by Crestline Custom Promotional Products revealed some surprising findings about how consumers shop their values.

According to Crestline, “trying to be an ethical consumer can be an emotional rollercoaster ride of feeling good when we support businesses that share our values, and guilty when we put convenience or price ahead of our beliefs.” Trying to “shop your values” can be difficult, said Crestine. But is “shopping” our values really all that important to consumers? Or is it just more big green hype?

Do consumers consider corporate ethics before buying from a company? The first question was: “I care whether the companies I buy from share my moral and ethical values.” To some extent they do: 17.2% said they “strongly agree” with that statement and 51.1% said they “agree.” The remaining 31.8% are indifferent (22.4%) or disagree (7.9%) and strongly disagree (1.5%). Consumers in Seattle-Tacoma and New York City care most about corporate ethics, each rating 3.91 in that category.

That category is also where advocacy groups threaten big brand owners with bad press on their “unethical” practices regarding their use of plastic that ends up in the world’s oceans if they don’t cave to demands to stop using certain plastic packaging.  

Another issue that concerns the plastics industry is labels: “On a scale of 1-5, how important are the following labels or claims to you?” the survey asked. The highest in importance was “non-toxic,” ranking 4.09. With chemicals implicated in the rise of various diseases being in the spotlight of the mainstream media of late, toxicity is a high-profile issue. The plastics industry knows about that with its nearly four-decade-long battle over BPA, a fight that should have been settled once and for all after last year’s FDA report.

Ninth on the list of importance when it comes to labels is “made in America,” with a rating of 3.04. When it comes to an “organic” label, most people would guess that would be high on the rating chart, right? Wrong. An organic label only got a 2.96 rating—the bottom of the list.

So what do consumers feel most guilty about? Again, on a scale of 1 to 5, American consumers feel most guilty about leaving a light on in an empty room (3.34). Second on the guilt meter is throwing something recyclable in the trash (3.32). While I don’t have much guilt about things in general, I will admit to wincing a bit if I am forced to throw a plastic water bottle in the trash container because there are no recycling containers nearby.

Fourth on that list of guilt trips is forgetting to bring reusable bags to the grocery store (2.68): 21.3% of respondents said they “always” use reusable bags; 54.7% said they “usually” and “sometimes” use reusable bags, split almost evenly; 13.2% “rarely” use reusable bags and 10.8% “never” use reusable bags. That part of the survey tells me that most consumers still use plastic carry bags from retail stores.

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