The Importance of Clearing Consumer Confusion on Recycling

Consumers are becoming more conscious of the environmental problems associated with plastic. 79% of consumers, according to Trivium Packaging, are looking for products that come with environmentally friendly packaging, and 63% say they are less likely to purchase items with such packaging.

Retail customers, who end up with almost all plastic packaging, will be a crucial component of efforts to raise the pitiful rates of plastics recycling, which range from as low as 4.5% in the US to 32.5% in Europe and 44.2% in the U.K.

However, the variety of sustainability callouts, labels, and features on products frequently confuses consumers. Finding the products that can be reused and refilled is the first step. Here, on-pack labeling is essential.

As reported by Reuters, research conducted last year for the UK’s OPRL (On-Pack Recycling Label) scheme confirmed this, with more than half of 5,000 customers polled stating that they frequently had trouble determining whether packaging can be recycled.

According to Jayne Paramor, strategic technology manager for plastics at WRAP, the Waste Reduction Action Programme, recycling needs to be made more straightforward, accessible to more people, and the default choice for consumers. According to Paramor, “The complexity of the materials in the system has been a major challenge for many years.” “The industry understands that it is their responsibility to make modifications and inform consumers of how to use the material. We must stop using plastics that are challenging to recycle.

Deposit return schemes (DRS) are one of the best ways to increase plastic recycling collection rates.

For producers in the EU, where new regulations force them to use an increasing proportion of recycled plastic in their containers, such programs—which pay consumers to return empty packages—are crucial because they enhance the availability of material that can be recycled. Single-use beverage bottles are required to contain 30% recycled material by 2030 and 65% by 2040, according to the EU. Due in part to rising energy prices that have increased the cost of recycling, many firms have claimed that they cannot create 100% recycled plastic due to a lack of supplies.

According to the World Economic Forum, several municipalities throughout the world, including more than 7,000 in the U.S., have implemented pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) garbage regulations, which require homeowners to pay for each bin they set out for disposal. Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, and Portland, Maine are a few examples.

Because of the size of the plastics issue, we require “all of the above” strategies that address customers both when they are shopping, whether at a store or at home, as well as when it comes time to dispose of their garbage. When possible, we should substitute more environmentally friendly materials for plastic, limit the amount used when there is no other option, and clearly disclose to consumers the type of material being used and how it can be recycled, repurposed, or returned at the end of its useful life.

References:

Scott, Mike. 2023. Reuters: Ending consumer confusion over recycling is ‘critical’ in battle against plastic waste.  Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/sustainability/boards-policy-regulation/ending-consumer-confusion-over-recycling-is-critical-battle-against-plastic-2023-07-19/

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