Do consumers still care about recycling?

Recycling is the most accessible and easily understood aspect of environmentalism and sustainability. An eco-conscious practice often learned in childhood, the habit (or lack thereof) is passed down to us by our role models, parents and guardians, an action we are exposed to alongside taking out the trash. The concept of recycling may be an implicitly understood process explicitly enforced by some mandated guidelines, but do consumers still care about recycling?

If you want to figure out what people care about, see what they spend their money on. It’s no coincidence that some of world’s most admired companies are sustainability stars; a majority of consumers see recyclability as the most important factor in choosing eco-friendly products. In a survey conducted for Packaging Digest’s 2015 Sustainable Packaging Study, 57% of participants cite a product’s recyclability to be top of mind when it comes to the environment and sustainability, a product featuring recycled content and reduced packaging coming up for second and third place.

Now representing a quarter of the entire U.S. population with an influential $200 billion in annual buying power, Millennials in particular increasingly report a willingness to pay a premium for products and services that come from companies demonstrating a commitment to sustainability.

Where consumers feel responsible for purchasing products that are good for the environment and society, they also believe that businesses should be very or extremely responsible for implementing programs and working to improve the environment. Americans now expect food and beverage brands to be engaged in increasing the rate at which their packaging is recycled, 68% of whom think that manufacturers and or retailers should bear the cost of recycling programs if they are not readily available to consumers.

Consumers also report that they would recycle more if given better indication of product recyclability and if given the chance to earn cash or rewards. At TerraCycle, we work with a number of companies and brands on a mission to solve for their previously unrecyclable product and packaging waste through sponsored recycling programs.

By putting forth the resources to collect and process the potentially valuable component materials that fall outside the scope of the current municipal recycling infrastructure, they divert waste from landfills, as well as incentivize consumers.

For example, D’Addario, one of the largest instrument string manufacturers in the world, sponsors Playback, TerraCycle’s Instrument String Recycling Program with TerraCycle. Calling upon consumers to “Offset Your Set,” the program is free to any individual, school or musical organization and solves for old and broken instrument strings, regardless of brand. Consumers are rewarded for each minimum shipment of strings with either a cash donation to the D’Addario Foundation or Playback loyalty points. Incentivizing recycling in this way is empowering and creates positive reinforcement for sustainable behavior.

To the average consumer, some of today’s most pressing environmental issues can seem a bit abstract. Topics like natural resource depletion, global warming and water contamination can be intimidating, and their solutions even more so. The individual impact of eco-conscious behaviors like choosing to bike or carpool to work and voting against fracking may not be immediately quantifiable, and therefore immaterial.

But person’s impact recycling can be measured in increments of every unit of waste individuals don’t place in the trash bin. Recycling is a behavior, and the conscious decision to engage in actions such as separating household waste into different bins, holding on to plastic and glass beverage bottles when in public, or participating in a TerraCycle recycling program has an immediate consequence that is experienced first-hand. Recycling affords the individual a direct proximity to the cause and effect of sustainable activity, empowering them to see the action as valuable, important and worthwhile.

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