Shoppers fret more over food packaging waste: poll
By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent
OSLO (Reuters) - Wasteful food packaging is among the fastest-growing environmental concerns for shoppers worldwide with New Zealanders most willing to cut back, a poll showed on Thursday.
The Internet-based survey in 48 nations, by the Nielsen Company, indicated that 40 percent of respondents were "very concerned" by trash from food packaging in November 2007 against just 31 percent in the previous poll in May 2007.
"Concern for packaging waste increased more than any other environmental concern," Nielsen said of the replies by 25,000 people. The survey also probed attitudes to climate change, water shortages, air and water pollution and use of pesticides.
"While eco-friendly packaging might not be the top priority for shoppers today, it's certainly a growing priority the food industry cannot ignore," said Patrick Dodd, president of the Nielsen Company, Europe.
Retailers such as Wal-Mart, Carrefour or Tesco are all pushing to cut back.
Half of those surveyed expressed willingness to give up "convenience packaging" -- for instance boxes to help make food more easily stacked or transported, re-sealable containers or plastic packages also used during cooking.
But only about 30 percent would abandon packaging meant to keep food clean, untouched by other shoppers or, for instance, labels with instructions for cooking and use.
The survey showed that New Zealanders were most willing to cut back, with more than 65 percent willing to forego convenience packaging. People in Finland, Ireland, the Czech Republic and Norway were also among those most willing to cut.
At the other end of the scale, people in Thailand and Japan were least willing to give up any kind of packaging.
Nielsen said urban shoppers in Asia often bought fresh food from markets and did not buy supermarket food packed for a long shelf life. They often prized aesthetics or easily stored goods.
Europeans and North Americans were those least prepared to give up packaging meant to ensure hygiene.
Overall, Nielsen said consumers were shifting to demand paper, cardboard or glass, all of which can be recycled, rather than plastic or polystyrene.
Bernard Leveau of packaging specialists Multivac in France said there were many ways of simplifying packaging. The firm had cut the thickness of plastic film used in food packaging by 30-35 percent while keeping the same strength, he said.
He also said retailers in the 1980s strived to extend the shelf life of fresh food -- such as up to three weeks for meat -- demanding complex packaging. "We're noticing that a shelf life of eight or 10 days is generally enough," he told Reuters.
Among other shifts, biodegradable materials for packaging could replace plastics and canned foods could often be sold in far less heavy containers.
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(Editing by Elizabeth Piper)