Two-thirds (66%) of Americans agree that “if a product is not easy/convenient for me to recycle, I probably would not recycle it.” That’s the finding of a new survey of 2,000 Americans conducted by the Harris Poll on behalf of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI; Washington, DC). That changes the game, as traditionally the effort to increase recycling rates has focused on education and awareness.
“Understanding what is recyclable and what is not can be confusing,” said Robin Wiener, ISRI President. “The easier it is for people to understand if a product is recyclable, the more likely it is to make its way to the recycling stream. This includes not only making products that are easy to recycle through design for recycling and product labeling, but making recycling convenient through collection efforts.”
The survey also provided the following takeaways for brand owners:
- The vast majority of Americans (81%) would like to see manufacturers and/or retailers display a “recycling guide” label on products (similar to the energy guide label on appliances) that would detail the parts and percentage of the product that could be recycled and how. Displaying this information more prominently may help Americans consider these aspects of their product when making a purchase; it could also encourage recycling of the product or package when disposing of it.
- Younger Americans aged 18 to 34 are more likely to consider product packaging than those older than 34, including whether or not the packaging can be recycled (17% vs 11%), what the package is made of (16% vs 9%) and whether the package is made from recycled materials (16% vs 8%). This could be an important aspect for brand owners targeting the purchasing power of millennials.
“Promoting recycling goes far beyond corporate social responsibility for brands,” said Wiener. “This survey reveals that clearly indicating a products’ recyclability, as well as the use of recyclable packaging, could have a positive impact on a brand’s bottom line. This makes good economic sense and is a win for the environment.”
Global snack-food producer Mondelez in its 2018 Shareholder Resolution noted that “recycling information for consumers will be provided by 2025. The company will work to make it easy for consumers to recycle or re-use product packs after use given the vast array of local recycling systems around the world.”
Obviously, for all of this new information to be included on the package labels, the packages will have to be much larger, plus it will be difficult for single-serve containers and packages to contain all the information mandated by law as to ingredients, calories, etc., and include recycling instructions. This might mean a greater use of materials to enlarge the package size, which means more plastic waste in the environment in those countries that do not have a recycling infrastructure. This would be the law of unintended consequences at work once again!
The survey also found government can set an example for Americans by prioritizing recyclable materials. In fact, four in five Americans (80%) agree that government at all levels should prioritize the use of recyclable products/materials when making purchasing decisions, said ISRI. Recycling is demand driven, and thus increasing the use of recyclable materials in manufacturing is critical to the success of recycling. This is also an important takeaway for brands participating in the government procurement process.
The study also found that 86% of U.S. adults agree that recycling collection sites need to be more readily accessible to consumers.
If it’s difficult for Americans to recycle plastic waste, it is next to impossible for people in developing nations with little to no infrastructure to do so. Perhaps in these cases, waste-to-energy is the best option. Put all garbage, paper and plastic waste into a single container and burn it!
You know what they say: “It isn’t easy being green!”