The value proposition for recycling

The value proposition for recycling

Sunday, November 15, was America Recycles Day. It immediately reminded me of an opinion piece I read a few weeks back in The New York Times (“The Reign of Recycling“) questioning the validity of recycling. Rebuttals were numerous and swift (read a few here and here), so there’s no reason for me to pile on. But I couldn’t help but notice that the NYT piece was just one of several less-than-wonderful mentions of recycling in the press lately. As this article points out, glass is becoming too expensive for some cities to handle. As these types of stories and opinion pieces appear more frequently, will it affect the perception of recycling among consumers?

Specifically, I’m thinking of recycled content messaging on packages, a message brands often use to try and connote some sustainability benefit about their product.

Our recent report “The Buzz on Buzzwords” shows that while Americans are very much in favor of products with recycled content or that are recyclable, they have some confusion about the terms. And, as the report notes, “because consumers aren’t very knowledgeable, they tend to have high expectations for products with those terms – higher than is actually justified.” Layering on to that is the reality, also borne out in our study, that consumers still generally associate “green” with “expensive.”

So while consumers see recycled content as a good thing, they’re already conditioned to think greener products are more expensive. When they read in the news that recycling is getting more expensive, do they put two and two together and think, “Wow, that product says it contains recycled content, which means it’s more expensive,” essentially turning a positive into a negative in their minds?

Admittedly, it may be a stretch. I am not advocating that manufacturers and brands drop their recycled content efforts. But I am suggesting that what’s playing out in the press – coupled with our knowledge that consumers don’t really get what many on-pack messages about recycling mean – reinforces the need to get more specific with your messaging. Your message should include why recycled content is important to the consumer. The benefits need to be clear: how does it make my life better, help the environment and/or help my community? Ideally, make your messaging tie into my values as a consumer. Simply saying “100% recycled content” isn’t enough. You can improve it by saying something along the lines of “100% recycled content – so we can save our resources for the future.”

So, while your current recycled content message may adhere to the FTC Green Guides, take the next step by making it meaningful. Make the value proposition obvious. And help your customers see what they’re paying for.

Recycling bins image by Timothy Takemoto via Flickr



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Posted on

November 18, 2015

About the Author

Jim Lyza

Jim is a former contributor to Shelton Insights.

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