Research Centre

The great sustainability test: aligning consumer demands with business reality

By June 11, 2020July 7th, 2020No Comments

Recent developments indicate that consumers can recycle well if given the time of day, however, how can we ensure that both consumer actions and businesses remain aligned in their sustainability efforts?

There is no doubt that the coronavirus has caused significant disruption to our lives, albeit with a few unexpected outcomes. Firstly, some councils in the United Kingdom have noticed a positive change in domestic recycling. 

According local council’s such as Horsham and North Lincolnshire, the quality and quantities of household recycling has dramatically improved. Richard Kirkman, Chief technology officer of Veolia UK states: 

It looks like it’s getting better in terms how good people are doing recycling… and we are able to recover more recycling than we were before.” 

Although it is difficult to ascertain whether this pattern is evident across all councils, and to pinpoint the exact reasoning behind it, one possible explanation could be that people have more time to appreciate their waste and the impact it has on the environment. Whatever the reasoning may be, this unintended outcome not only allows recycling companies to extract greater amounts of plastic for reuse, but it also shows that we Britons can recycle better when we put our minds to it.  

On the other hand, the recycled plastic industry has taken a significant hit. Since the oil price crash, there has been a transition away from recycled plastic (rPET) to new, virgin plastic (PET) made from oil and petrochemicals. Thus, even though a vast majority of consumers are showing a great interest in recycled products and packaging, some companies are struggling to turn that into reality.  

This price-based movement away from sustainability illustrates a disparity between consumers desire for recycled plastic, and seemingly greater recycling efforts, and a business need to save money. Although the coronavirus has thrown an economic curveball, for radical change to take place, consumers and companies must be aligned in their sustainability goals. 

Within this cultural and economic shift, sustainability needs to become more engrained in our actions and decisions to fulfil the needs of our planet. Promising efforts are being made on government level and perhaps the upcoming EU green deal will help to narrow the gap between businesses and consumers. 

In the more immediate term, the question remains how companies can continue to stay afloat and move forward in achieving their sustainability goals, while also appealing to consumer wants.