Consumer awareness is the driving force for businesses becoming more sustainable


Consumer attitudes towards plastic waste have been changing and this increased awareness is driving a consumer movement. Recycling rates are growing as society becomes more aware and proactive in its actions towards reducing plastic waste.

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Consumer attitudes towards plastic waste have changed over the last decade, and anti-plastic waste sentiment has been further strengthened by the global pandemic.  

According to recent research, 80% of consumers want to see a reduction in plastic packaging following the COVID-19 pandemic. A similar number of consumers also say businesses should replace plastic with environmentally friendly packaging across all products.  

This increased awareness is driving a consumer movement. Recycling rates are growing as society becomes more aware and proactive in its actions towards reducing plastic waste. People are voicing their beliefs by joining initiatives, protests, and social movements to tackle plastic waste, and there is now demand for progressive legislation and infrastructure to enable the responsible use of resources.  

In turn, this pressure is forcing businesses to evolve how they produce, handle and dispose of their resources. The spotlight is now on businesses to take responsibility for what they produce, from using sustainable packaging to implementing closed-loop waste recovery systems.  

The consumer shift 

There are countless examples of how consumers are doing their bit to tackle plastic waste: the rise of ‘zero waste’ shops, the sharp incline in sales of refillable water bottles, and the introduction of cleanup schemes such as All_Together Global Cleanup

The COVID-19 pandemic has also changed consumer attitudes towards plastic packaging and waste, with concerns rising on how resources are being handled. The requirement for single-use plastic items such as face shields, gloves, takeaway food containers and product packaging has grown out of necessity – however this has stalled the green recovery and reduction of single-use plastic waste.  

In a cross-national survey, 85% of respondents said it’s time to move away from single-use materials in favor of packaging made from recycled materials in light on the pandemic. 

In Europe, the average person recycles 115kg of packaging waste (an increase of approximately 20% over a 10-year reporting period), with a plastic packaging recovery rate of approximately 40%. The global leaders when it comes to recycling rates are Switzerland, recycling 52% of total waste, Austria 50%, and Germany 48%. 

Consumers want to play their part in the battle against plastic waste, and research shows there is an appetite for a widespread introduction and expansion of deposit return systems (DRS). 

A DRS, also known as a bottle bill or container deposit scheme, motivates consumers to return their beverage containers for recycling by adding a deposit value to the cost of the container. Once the container has been returned, the deposit value is repaid to the consumer.  

The systems work two-fold. Firstly, it maintains the value and quality of the material, which means it can be reused and enables businesses to meet recycled content targets. Secondly, a DRS empowers consumers to play their part in responsibly handling resources, reducing litter in society.  

In research by Reloop, an average of 82 percent of people surveyed across 17 countries stated they were in favor of a DRS, with the highest response being 96 percent in Spain. Of the countries that already have a system in place, an average of 87 percent said they were in favor of existing DRS legislation, and 82 percent stated they would be in favor of the system expanding further.  

With the introduction of the EU Single-Use Plastics Directive (SUPD) now setting businesses' recycled content targets for beverage containers, experts believe that hitting these goals will be difficult without a DRS in place. Consumer adoption of a DRS directly impacts businesses, as it affects the amount of high-value material available to use and the ability to meet recycled content targets.  

Want to learn more about deposit return systems for beverage container recycling? Download TOMRA’s new white paper revealing best practices in design.

Businesses rising to the consumer challenge  

Businesses are starting to pay attention to this shift in consumer attitudes towards plastic packaging and waste, and are making changes as a result. Sustainability is now high on the agenda for businesses because they know that, if it’s not, they will lose paying customers. 

This pressure from consumers has played a contributing role in making businesses more accountable for their resource responsibility, by introducing voluntary goals and initiatives that go beyond the regulatory requirements. Global brands such as Unilever, Nestlé and IKEA have all announced commitments to change how they handle resources, with the aim of eliminating single-use plastic related waste within the next 10 years.  

These commitments further signal the importance of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). EPR enforces businesses to take responsibility for the handling, treatment, and disposal of post-consumer products, with the aim to support recycling and green waste management, promoting sustainable product design, and preventing waste.  

A change in consumer attitudes towards plastic packaging driving the green recovery 

As we reignite efforts for the green recovery, now is the time to evolve how resources are handled – and consumers play a leading role in this. Through adopting effective recycling habits, utilizing waste management technologies, consumers can demand responsible behavior from businesses. 

Progressive legislation isn’t the only answer to ensuring businesses play their part in sustainable resource handling. Consumers can also promote and champion these efforts through their own behavior.  

By seeing value in waste through schemes such as DRS, as well as utilizing recycling technologies, society can become empowered to adopt a green mindset whilst keeping material at the highest quality possible. This in turn can help enable resources to stay in a closed loop.