This article originally appeared in BSR Insight.
If you’ve read our Good Company report, you already know that about 42% of Americans want to be seen as someone who buys eco-friendly products, and 26% can name a brand – without help – that they bought or not bought. due to the environmental or social record of the manufacturer. You also know that the way you take care of your people is what most affects Americans’ preference for your brand.
But another clear mandate from consumers is just behind it: recycling. To the question “Please choose the three most important things businesses should do to positively impact your purchasing decision,” “recycle” comes first and “make recyclable products” completes the first three responses.
So why? If you’re reading this, you know there are far more important initiatives businesses can and should take to reduce their environmental impact, so why are Americans so obsessed with recycling?
- They are still more concerned about plastics in the ocean than climate change. We found out that was the case in 2019, and it remains true even thanks to our investigations during the pandemic. For many Americans, plastics in the ocean are the problem we need to tackle, in large part because we are all complicit in it. (It could be my plastic bag around this turtle’s neck!) It’s a very visual and tangible issue that we can all see our part in, and we want that to stop. But for consumers who are actively trying to reduce their single-use plastic purchases – a third of the population before the pandemic, a quarter during the pandemic – they are forced to buy plastic packaging to get the products they want. , and therefore they put the responsibility of manufacturers and brands. In other words, “if you’re going to make me buy single-use plastic packaging that I don’t want to buy, then it’s up to you to make sure the plastic is made from recycled content and that is recyclable ”.
- Recycling is a giant card to free yourself from guilt. Many of us feel a little guilty about everything we buy and throw away. Just think for a second about the word “waste”. It’s never used to connote anything positive – “don’t waste, don’t want” comes to mind, just like “that guy at the bar is so wasted” – so neither of us want to be a ” wasting “. If we didn’t have a recycling bin, we’d be rolling two trash cans every week instead of one, and we’d feel really bad about it. So we believe in recycling – even for the 39% of Americans who are aware of the challenges posed by the current recycling system, 97% have not changed their recycling habits. And that belief extends to the brands we identify with and buy with – we expect brands to meet the same standards as we do, and we expect them to recycle their waste instead of throwing it away. dump.
- We are starting to lose faith. Interestingly, however, in 2019 only 15% of Americans said they were not convinced that what they put in the recycling bin was actually recycled. A year later, that number rose to 23 percent. This puts more and more expectations on brands. If I can’t be sure what I put in the blue bin is actually recycled, then I should know that brands are trying to manage this for me, by recycling their own waste and making packaging from recycled content.
Brands have a huge opportunity to tell their story – on how you deal with waste in your factories, but also on how you work to use truly recyclable packaging materials. There is also a high degree of risk here. Until chemical recycling becomes mainstream, not all plastics labeled 3-7 are largely recycled. So when a brand slaps the chase arrows circling a number other than a 1 or 2 on their packaging, that’s really greenwashing, I’m afraid. And when consumers find out, there will be a backlash. They will feel betrayed and lying. And that’s not the relationship you want to establish between your brand and your buyers.