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Issue 01/2018

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bioplasticsMAGAZINE_1801

Report What consumers

Report What consumers know and think… Consumers’ experience, knowledge, expectations and preferences regarding products made of biobased plastics Scant consumer experience Biobased plastics are a potentially environmentally friendly alternative to conventional plastics. But today, only a very small percentage of the 300 million tonnes of plastics produced every year, is biobased. The range of products is limited and the products themselves are often more expensive than those of conventional materials; moreover, information about biobased plastics and appropriate products tends to be lacking. Thus, consumers’ experience with and their knowledge of these materials are limited. Existing studies on products made of biobased plastics reveal that no more than 10-15 % of respondents indicated having experience with such products [1, 2, 3]. However, insights regarding consumers’ expectations on and their associations with biobased plastics are of major interest, as a better understanding of these could foster the successful market development of products made of biobased plastics. Consumers’ expectations and associations Scherer et al. [3] showed in their study that German consumers mostly have positive associations - environmental friendliness, naturalness or innovativeness, for example - with biobased plastics. The only negative aspect is the assumed high product price. Moreover, consumers believe that biobased plastics are promising materials, which contribute to a reduction of the negative environmental impacts of conventional plastics. But, on the other hand, consumers apparently have strict requirements when it comes to biobased plastics. Not only do they demand that these be derived from regionally cultivated raw materials, they also reject the use of genetic engineering, and require organic cultivation methods to be followed. Referring to other, more familiar product sectors, such as food products, the term ‘bio’ seems to pretend organic cultivation. A further study by Rumm [2], which was carried out in in Germany the year 2014, concludes that respondents have both positive and negative associations with biobased plastics. On the one hand, the respondents appreciated the use of renewable raw materials, because of their lower environmental impact and because this meant a reduction in the use of conventional plastics. On the other hand, negative associations such as genetic engineering, monocropping and a negative impact on food security, were also found. A further study of Sijtsema et al. [4] dealing with consumers from different European countries confirmed these results. They concluded that consumers are not sufficiently familiar with biobased plastics, but that they value the environmental advantages and naturalness which they offer. Again, the criticism in this study, too, focused on the higher prices of biobased plastics, and negative environmental associations. Lack of knowledge about biobased plastics Blesin et al. [1] conducted a survey on bioplastics representative for the German population, which showed that the knowledge of bioplastics in general is strongly limited. More than half of the respondents indicated that they had never heard of bioplastics, with only 7 % of the respondents claiming to have a considerable knowledge of these materials. In this survey, the respondents’ knowledge about bioplastics was checked by different thematic questions (Fig. 1). A majority of respondents mistakenly assumed that bioplastics were all biodegradable and that cultivation of the raw materials for these plastics was required to be organic. Moreover, some respondents thought that bioplastics could not contain any mineral oil and that products made of bioplastics were generally of inferior quality. Interestingly, respondents who claimed to know more about bioplastics and respondents who indicated that they had had experience with products made of bioplastic answered the questions about biodegradability and raw materials incorrectly more often than respondents without any knowledge or experience with products in this field. Consumers’ preferences for regionally cultivated raw materials Despite having only a limited experience with - and knowledge of - products made of biobased plastics, consumers seem to be strongly interested in choosing such products in future buying decisions. The existing studies [1, 3] show that hardly any respondents reject products made of biobased plastics, and more than 50 % of the respondents would likely or definitely want to buy such products. However, it is essential first to know their preferences relating to biobased plastics. Consumer acceptance of and preferences with regard to biobased plastics have hardly been studied so far. In their study, Scherer et al., [3, 5] conducted choicebased-conjoint analyses to identify preferred product attributes of various sample products (Fig. 2). A choice-based-conjoint analysis offers a realistic approach to simulate buying decisions. It is an often-used method to determine product preferences and is also suitable to analyze hypothetical product concepts. This research shows that two important factors influencing consumers’ preferences for biobased products are the origin of the raw materials and product price. Consumers clearly prefer regionally cultivated raw materials, and reject imports from overseas. According to economic theory, consumers prefer low prices. However, consumers are apparently willing to accept a slight 26 bioplastics MAGAZINE [01/18] Vol. 13

Report Fig. 2: Relative average importance of different attributes of products made of biobased plastics (based on [3, 5]) Price Origin of raw materials Percentage of bio-based plastic contained Environmental impact (Reduction of CO 2 -emissions) Information regarding cultivation of raw materials Additives contained Equipment 16,2% 13,5% 12,8% 11,1% 8,8% 8,2% Sand toys (n=522) 29,4% Origin of raw Materials Price Softeners contained Dishwasher safe Environmental impact (Reduction of CO 2 -emissions) Percentage of bio-based plastic contained Information regarding cultivation of raw materials 25,5% 16,2% 13,6% 12,0% Drink bottle (n=571) 11,8% 11,2% 9,8% By: Christoph Scherer, Agnes Emberger-Klein and Klaus Menrad Weihenstephan-Triesdorf University of Applied Sciences, Straubing and Freising, Germany Origin of raw Materials Price Weight of the running shoe Environmental impact (Reduction of CO 2 -emissions) Percentage of bio-based plastic contained Information regarding cultivation of raw materials Upper material of the running shoe 5,1% 10,4% 9,9% 14,3% 13,7% 21,2% 25,4% Running shoe (n=528) 0% 10% 20% 30% Fig. 1: Thematic knowledge about bioplastics (n=1,673) (based on Blesin et al., [1]) price premium if their perceptions and requirements are fulfilled. In that case, biobased plastics would seem to be at an advantage compared to conventional plastics, which justifies slightly higher prices. Consumers appreciate a positive environmental impact by a reduction of CO 2 -emissions, a high percentage of biobased plastics and organic cultivation of raw materials. In addition to organic cultivation, consumers also prefer cultivation to be sustainably certified and genetic engineering not to be used. Especially in the case of bottles, biobased products containing no plasticizers were strongly favoured by consumers. The idea of biobased plasticizers was considered skeptically. These results are supported by other studies in Germany and the USA, which points to a general interest in products made of biobased plastics. The origin of plant-based raw materials is thereby an essential attribute [2, 6]. Recommendations regarding products made of biobased plastics Based on the results of these studies, manufacturers of biobased plastics and appropriate products should respect the preferences and requests of consumers. Products made of biobased plastics are still relatively rare in the marketplace, and the impressions of early consumers are essential for the further market penetration of biobased plastics in general. Promising marketing concepts offer specific advantages over conventional plastics, such as ecological and health benefits, which can be achieved by omitting toxic substances. A particular advantage is the usage of regionally cultivated raw materials, which is clearly viewed as better than conventional plastics, which are based on imported fossil raw materials. Positive impacts on the local economy, especially in rural areas, offer an additional benefit. In addition to promoting biobased plastics and relevant products, information should be made available to consumers, to increase the knowledge of and clarify common misunderstandings about biobased plastics. www.hswt.de/en/ All bioplastics are biodegradable Bioplastics have to be produced of organically cultivated raw materials Bioplastics may contain mineral oil Bioplastics generally break down rather than conventional plastics Bioplastics may be based on inedible plants. Corn and sugar may be raw materials for the production of bioplastics 8,6% 57,6% 33,8% 20% 48,9% 31,3% 21,6% 27,6% 50,8% 26,7% 24,1% 49,3% 48,3% 6,6% 45,1% 62,9% 2,6% 34,5% 0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100% Correctly answered Incorrectly answered Do not know References: [6] Barnes, M., Chan-Halbrendt, C., Zhang, Q., Abejon, N., 2011. Consumer preference and willingness to pay for non-plastic food containers in Honolulu, USA. Journal of Environmental Protection 2, 1264–1273. 10.4236/jep.2011.29146. [1] Blesin, J.-M., Möhring, W., Klein, F., Emberger-Klein, A., Scherer, C., Menrad, K., 2017. Bevölkerungsrepräsentative Online- Befragung in Deutschland zu Biokunststoffen, Hannover. Accessed November 29, 2017. [2] Rumm, S., 2016. Verbrauchereinschätzungen zu Biokunststoffen: eine Analyse vor dem Hintergrund des heuristic-systematic model. [3] Scherer, C., Emberger-Klein, A., Menrad, K., 2017. Biogenic product alternatives for children: Consumer preferences for a set of sand toys made of biobased plastic. Sustainable Production and Consumption 10, 1–14. [5] Scherer, C., Emberger-Klein, A., Menrad, K., 2018 (in press). Segmentation of interested and less interested consumers in sports equipment made of biobased plastic. Sustainable Production and Consumption. [4] Sijtsema, S.J., Onwezen, M.C., Reinders, M.J., Dagevos, H., Partanen, A., Meeusen, M., 2016. Consumer perception of biobased products—An exploratory study in 5 European countries. Social science perspectives on the bio-economy 77, 61–69. 10.1016/j.njas.2016.03.007. bioplastics MAGAZINE [01/18] Vol. 13 27

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