The consumer case for all forms of recycling
Shelton Stat of the Week
76% of people in America say recycling makes them feel better about the amount of things they purchase.
—Recycling Pulse, 2022
Last week, my friend Joel Makower wrote an excellent piece decoding chemical/advanced recycling and attempted to answer the question: is advanced recycling the answer to plastic waste?
If you saw my speech at this year’s Circularity conference, you know Shelton Group’s point of view is that NOW is the time to engage people in the other two R’s – reduction and re-use. And if you saw the main stage panel right after my talk, you heard Keefe Harrison, CEO of The Recycling Partnership, say, “we don’t get to circularity without recycling.”
Yes, now is the time to actually gain traction with our friends and neighbors on reducing and reusing, and brands should be pursuing those models. And yes, recycling will always be needed for when reusable/refillable containers – and durable plastics like flooring and textiles – reach their obvious useful end of life. And yes again, advanced recycling is a critical piece of the equation. Think of end-of-life solutions like a Swiss army knife – we need the spoon (mechanical recycling) and the corkscrew (advanced recycling) to ensure all materials get turned into new materials vs. winding up in the environment or a landfill.
And recyclability is still an incredibly appealing consumer benefit when it comes to packaging. Let me geek out on some data for a minute: In our Recycling Pulse survey of 1,001 people in America, conducted in February of this year, we identified 14 potential benefits of a package and gave our participants the following instruction:
Following is an exercise where we will show some different ways products can be packaged. You will see a few different screens with descriptions on each. For each group of descriptions, we would like you to tell us which type of packaging you would be MOST LIKELY to buy and which type of packaging you would be LEAST LIKELY to buy.
Using a MaxDiff question we served up the 14 descriptions in random sets of four, so that participants evaluated each item at least 3 times for most and least likely to buy in comparison to other items. TURF analysis (short for Total Unduplicated Reach & Frequency) revealed which combination of benefits will attract the most people. The description, “A package that is recyclable,” gets roughly 73% of people to say yes to your product. Layer in “designed to help the product stay fresh longer,” “biodegradable” and “non-toxic,” and this model predicts you can reach nearly 99.9% of people who see all of these the messages.
At Shelton Group, we’ve borne this out in real time. This spring we launched a consumer marketing campaign for a coalition of canned food makers and food can manufacturers called Canned Good. The goal was to help folks “get it” that steel cans are infinitely recyclable and they help fight food waste in order to drive preference for the steel food can. As our TURF analysis (and a bunch of other sustainability insights work we completed) predicted, it worked. Not only did we increase awareness of the infinite recyclability of steel food cans by 10-20%, depending on the region of the country, we increased favorability towards steel food cans by 7-9%, depending on the region of the country.
Just to make sure that’s super clear: we drove favorability for a form of packaging by telling its recyclability story. That’s how powerful recycling messaging can be.
Recycling is something all our friends and neighbors understand. It’s a proxy for eco-friendliness, as in, “I do my part…I recycle!” and we should ensure recycling actually lives up to its promise by using all available technologies – mechanical AND chemical – alongside new models for reducing consumption and reusing/refilling packaging.
It’s what the people want.
While it has its alluring values, there is pushback against chemical recycling. This Bloomberg Law article details how some states are passing laws to enable easier chemical recycling implementation by reclassifying it as manufacturing rather than solid waste disposal and discusses critics’ concerns over the energy and waste with chemical recycling.
— Plastics News
To expand the number of people recycling, we must expand access to recycling. This Plastics News piece explores how organizations are looking at behavior sciences to expand access to recycling and increase participation.
Shoptivism: Why Consumers (& Job Seekers) Opt In & Out of Today’s Brands
Every year we ask Americans if they’ve ever intentionally purchased or not purchased a product or service based on the social or environmental record of the manufacturer. We then ask everyone who says “yes” to name the brand. Those who say “yes” and can give an example of a brand unaided? We call them shoptivists.
But who are these “shoptivists?”
Our latest report answers this question with three distinct consumer profiles, including details on their mental models, their shopping patterns, the messages that resonate, and where to find them.