This study analysed the perceived environmental sustainability of alternative packaging systems for beverages (glass bottle, plastic bottle, and aluminium cans) from a sample of young Italian consumers with a sociological survey. In parallel, a life cycle assessment was conducted to compare the perceived and actual environmental sustainability as well as to identify any discrepancies, with comparison indicators for different environmental issues. The sample of Italian students perceived glass bottles as the most environmentally sustainable compared to aluminium cans and plastic bottles (the worst perceived option). Similar results were recorded for a sample of environmentalists from the same region with an even greater perception of environmental sustainability for single use glass bottles. Therefore, there was an overwhelming confirmation of how glass is perceived as very sustainable from an environmental point of view and of how plastic is perceived as having little or no environmental sustainability. However, the life cycle assessment study showed that the positive perception in favour of single-use glass is completely unfounded since glass packaging was clearly the worst option both in terms of midpoint impact categories as well as macro-categories of damage. The definition of indicators useful for the comparison between the perceived and actual sustainability were able to confirm that the environmental sustainability of glass bottles was widely overestimated by the respondents for both midpoint and endpoint environmental issues. There is a misperception of environmental sustainability by consumers that could be due to a lack or incorrect communication between the scientific community and citizens. Effective communication initiatives are therefore needed to enable consumers to move beyond prejudices that are excessively pro-glass and excessively anti-plastic.
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