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What Consumers Want (in a post-covid world)

  • Published on May 18, 2022

Updated consumer insights from a study in March 2021 with 5,168 consumers in England, Scotland and Wales on their attitudes to pro-environmental behaviours and recycling labelling. Building on previous research in November 2019, the study looked at how Covid and lockdowns changed attitudes and behaviours as well as consumer understanding of labelling promoting action on recycling packaging.

By understanding consumer understanding, recognition and likelihood to engage and react to calls to action on pro-environmental behaviours business and government can improve participation in activities such as recycling, reuse of resources, energy and water reduction etc.  This updated research shows that while many UK consumers recognise the Mobius loop, for instance, few understand what it means or how it relates to their local recycling services and which packaging can be recycled in their home.  More specific, evidence-based labels such as OPRL's UK packaging labels are three times better understood than any other recycling symbol frequently found on packaging, and so much more likely to promote the correct behaviours.

Testing of changes in label design also showed that even small changes in wording result in greater understanding.  For example, moving from a statement of availability of recycling services for a specific type of packaging 'Widely Recycled' to active language calling for a specific response 'Recycle' led to a 9% increase in understanding.  Three in five people said uncertainty on whether something can be recycled is the main reason they don't always recycle. Removing that uncertainty promotes greater and more accurate recycling (ie including everything that can be recycled but excluding those items that would contaminate the recycled materials).

The study also revealed that while 55 year olds and older were very focused on 'doing', recycling more and reducing waste, young people (18-34 yo) worry they cannot make much difference as individuals and need support and encouragement to do the right thing.

Within the UK there were differences between individual nations, with Welsh respondents being much more actively engaged and taking more personal responsibility. They believed the Welsh Government and councils provided the services they needed to support positive recycling activity and that they needed to play their part too. The very active national conversation the Welsh Government has undertaken over a number of years, making Wales the 3rd highest recycling nation globally, has normalised recycling as a socially and environmentally responsible activity. English and Scottish respondents did not report the same levels of engagement.

The results of this study have been used to inform industry responses to government consultations on a mandatory recycling label for packaging in the UK, due to come into effect in 2026. The research also informed Parliamentary debate on the provisions of the Environment Act 2021 which provides the statutory basis for this measure.

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