Despite a strong desire to help the environment by recycling, American consumers are rapidly losing faith that the paper, plastic and metal containers chucked into those blue bins are being recycled, according to research presented at a sustainability conference today.
The growing lack of trust in recycling is a threat to new circular economy business models that are dependent on a steady flow of feedstock from resource-recovery centers, says Suzanne Shelton, founder and CEO of Shelton Group.
“Recycling is our guilt-assuaging system,” Shelton told sustainability professionals attending GreenBiz Group’s Circularity 22 event in Atlanta. “The context is shifting so that people are beginning to feel uncomfortable participating in a single-use, fast-fashion… economy.”
While 95 percent of Americans believe recycling helps the environment, 49 percent say the current system is not working well, and 30 percent are not confident that what we put in recycling bins actually gets recycled, according to research conducted by Shelton Group in early February.
The skepticism is growing. In 2019, only 14 percent of Americans were not confident their recyclables were recycled. In 2020, it was 23 percent, said Shelton, adding, “The more they learn about the way the recycling system, works, the less confident they are.”
Shelton, whose Knoxville, Tenn., agency promotes itself as the nation’s leading marketing communications firm entirely focused in the environmental, social and governance (ESG) arena, said American consumers are keen to buy products designed to be refilled and reused.
Circularity is the new “virtue signal,” she said. “The brands that figure that out are the brands that are going to win.”
Among the brands lauded by Shelton were Starbucks for refillable cups, SC Johnson for concentrated cleaner refills, Levi’s for making jeans that last longer, Body Shop for adding refill stations to its stores and Eastman for investing in molecular recycling facilities to recycle more plastic waste.
Image credit: Dave Armon