Smarter design of food packaging helps consumers sort waste better

Babak Nemat, a researcher in the research area of ​​Resource Recovery, has concluded in his doctoral work that the design of the packaging itself can be a key to influencing consumers to separate the different fractions that the packaging consists of correctly.

“The packaging design can influence consumers' sorting behaviour and reduce miss-sorting by being based on the user and a sustainable behaviour. By communicating the value, function, and recyclability through the packaging usage phase, the design has the potential to influence the consumer to sort properly,” he said.

In the research project, he has started from the importance of the packaging's shape, texture and colour, but he also concluded that the packaging design can be used to give consumers knowledge about recycling.

“Until now, research on the waste management of food packaging has mainly focused on how different materials can be recycled, while the design has been reserved for marketing the content itself. The interesting and new thing that emerges in my research project is that it is possible to increase the amount of recycled packaging material and at the same time meet the demands of consumers and marketing.”

The method in the research project – starting from the consumer’s perspective when designing packaging – is entirely new and has not been used in previous research on waste management.

What is your impression of the research environment within Resource Recovery at the University of Borås?

“It is a friendly, multicultural environment that offers unique opportunities to meet and collaborate with different researchers and universities. There is a prestigious computerised library and access to academic sources alongside full support throughout the doctoral studies period.”

What are your next plans?

“My greatest wish is to collaborate with packaging producers to be able to put my knowledge into practice. Or to continue researching.”

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Read the thesis "Food packaging design to support sorting behavior."

Principal supervisor: Mohammad Razzaghi, University of Art, Tehran

Assistant Supervisors: Kamran Rousta, Associate Professor, and Kim Bolton, Professor, University of Borås

Research area: Resource Recovery

Research group: Resource Management, which studies why waste occurs and implements innovations to reducing the amount of waste and improving sorting.

Read more about the research group

Agenda 2030

This project relates to the goals of Agenda 2030. Waste sorting is a sustainable behaviour, and several sustainable development goals (SDGs) are influenced by correct waste sorting, directly or indirectly. The most impact will be on SDG 11, sustainable cities and communities that highly depend on more efficient use of resources, which could be achieved through waste sorting. Currently, food packaging waste, due to its diversity in content, is a potential threat to challenge the quality of societies and nature. Needless to say how proper waste sorting could minimize the total impact and influence SDG 13, climate action, and SDG 14, life underwater. SDG 12, responsible consumption and production is another goal influenced by waste sorting.

This research project also aimed to highlight the producer and organization’s role in enhancing recycling knowledge and reducing uncertainty about the recyclability of some packaging materials, especially plastic packaging.