Assessing Knowledge and Use Practices of Plastic Food Packaging among Young Adults in South Africa: Concerns about Chemicals and Health

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Oct 9;18(20):10576. doi: 10.3390/ijerph182010576.


Chemicals associated with health problems can migrate from packaging into food matrices. Therefore, consumers need to be aware of health concerns associated with incorrectly used plastic food packaging. However, little is known about consumers' knowledge and their plastics usage practices. This study assessed this knowledge and practices among young South African adult consumers. Our online survey of 293 participants focused on their objective (actual) and subjective (self-perceived) knowledge about plastic food packaging care and safety, their utilization practices, and their sources of information about safe use of plastics. Participants' utilization practices showed broad misuse. Their subjective knowledge about the correct use of plastic packaging was in most respects contradicted by their limited objective knowledge. We found that plastic identification codes on packaging largely failed in their informative purpose; instead, participants mainly consulted informal information sources about plastics. The knowledge gaps, unsafe plastic use practices, and information source deficiencies identified here can help to guide future improvements. We call for consumer education, across all demographics, about plastic utilization practices and associated health concerns about plastic chemicals. We also highlight the need for the government, food and plastics industries to join forces in ensuring that consumers are informed about safe plastic packaging usage.

Keywords: bisphenol A; consumer knowledge; food packaging; health concern; information sources; plastic; utilization practices.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Food Packaging*
  • Humans
  • Industry
  • Plastics*
  • South Africa
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult


  • Plastics