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Plastic packaging to blame for a drop in revenue for small traders – what can your small business do?

3 minute read

Plastic packaging to blame for a drop in revenue for small traders – what can your small business do?

Plastic packaging has become the focal point of scrutiny in environmental campaigns over the last few years, with organisations such as Greenpeace raising awareness of the considerable damage to the marine ecosystem caused by ocean plastic.

But, it’s not only Greenpeace that has spread information about the impact of plastics. The rhetoric has, slowly but surely, began to turn plastic into the nemesis of the natural world. The term ‘zero-waste’ is one that you’ve probably heard by now as a popular movement and lifestyle that encourages the reuse of resources so as to avoid anything ending up on a landfill, in an incinerator, or in the ocean. A quick Google search will show you just how big this movement is now (even I was surprised).

“The leaders of this zero-waste lifestyle movement are young millennial women like Lauren Singer of Trash is for Tossers, Celia Ristow of Litterless, and Kellogg.” – Leilani Clark

Rather than these choices being dubbed as extreme, it seems as if the sentiments are shared with many people, and subtle changes in society are beginning to take effect such as more people using reusable cups and straws at cafes. Likewise, there has already been a shift in people using their own bags for food shopping (groceries) for some time now. Most shoppers now like to have a conscience and know that they’re doing the best they can to avoid unnecessary damage to the planet.

Crucially for small retailers, the change in attitude towards plastic use means that they need to change their own packaging processes in alignment to ensure they aren’t losing sales.

New research from Paymentsense has shown that half (54%) of small retailers have seen sales of plastic packaged goods fall over the last six months.

Almost half (49%) of the small retailers surveyed said the number of customers requesting products without packaging has increased over the last six months. Over a third (36%) reported that consumers are now buying more unwrapped goods and using their own bags or containers to transport them. Nearly a quarter (23%) said they had seen a growth in customers requesting products with plastic-free packaging.

This has affected revenue as a whole, and the small retailers surveyed said they had noticed an associated drop in takings of 3.6%, on average.

If your small business sells products with a lot of plastics, here is how the surveyed businesses have responded to inspire you:

Over four in 10 (41%) said they have started stocking unpacked or loose goods as well as introduced new lines with plastic-free packaging in the last six months. Almost a third (30%) are also now recycling more, and a quarter (25%) no longer sell drinks with built-in plastic straws.

Guy Moreve, CMO at Paymentsense said:

“Our study shows how changing consumer behaviour is starting to have an impact on the UK’s small retailers. It’s clear that in recent years public awareness has deepened around the issue, and pressure to reduce or eliminate plastics from products and packaging has grown significantly. Movements like the UK Plastics pact are really gaining traction, as businesses and industry work towards a more circular approach to protect the environment.”

What do customers dislike?

Small retailers’ consumer blacklist

– Fruit and vegetables wrapped in plastic (highlighted as down by 44% of small retailers)
– Fruit juice in plastic bottles (43%)
– Water in plastic bottles (39%)
– Plastic cutlery (26%)
– Plastic straws (26%)
– Drinks sold with plastic straws (25%)
– Soft drinks in plastic bottles (24%)
– Tea bags (23%)
– Cling film (17%)
– Frozen food with plastic packaging (14%)

*Data from 291 small UK retail businesses. Research took place in July 2018.

With the knowledge that unnecessary plastic packaging is anathema to a growing number of millennials, and probably the socially conscious younger Generation Z, information about alternatives should be considered by small retailers to prevent a loss in sales. While years ago the zero-waste movement might have been seen as some eccentric hippie fad (vegetarianism was also once perceived this way) it’s now a thriving community of people around the world seeking to improve health and reduce harm to the planet. By becoming more environmentally conscious, including reducing plastic packaging, small traders can get more in touch with the issues that matter to modern buyers.

If you’re a small trader who has reduced your plastic packaging, let us know how on Twitter @dotUK. 

Content Writer & Editor

Rosie Hayes is the primary Content Editor and Writer at the UK Domain, creating and editing informative and inspiring content for its audiences of small businesses and entrepreneurs. She is a qualified Journalist, NCTJ certified, and is currently an MSt student in Literature and Arts at Oxford University. Having worked in editing, communications, and brand strategy in agencies in Seoul and London, she is passionate about producing intelligent writing with practical and creative value.

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