According to the results of a survey that was commissioned by RECOUP and PlasticsEurope, young people between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four show a lack of awareness about plastic waste recycling. More than 4,100 people from Germany, Poland and the UK were asked about their perceptions and habits regarding recycling, and the results showed that fewer than a third of young people actually recycle plastic waste.
The situation in the UK is better than in the other countries, with 29 per cent of UK young people contributing to plastic recycling compared to 24 per cent in Germany and just 18 per cent in Poland. The survey also looked at the recycling habits of the population as a whole and found that fewer than half of them recycle all the plastics they use. The proportions are slightly different, with Germany recycling 51 per cent, the UK recycling 45 per cent and Poland recycling 35 per cent of waste plastic.
The major reason given for failing to recycle is confusion and lack of information about which plastics can be sent for plastic recycling. Polish respondents reported that there were different barriers to recycling such as the inconvenience and less willingness to do it.
Consumers were also asked which system of plastic waste management would be most acceptable to them. From the choices of sending to landfill, recycling and energy recovery, the vast majority – 95 per cent in Germany, 93 per cent in the UK and 94 per cent in Poland – stated that they preferred recycling. There was resistance in all three countries to disposing of plastic waste in landfills, but opinions on energy recovery solutions were more divided.
Other results from the survey concluded that more than fifty per cent of consumers would like more information about plastic recycling and how plastics that are collected are treated. 54 per cent of people in Poland, 64 per cent in the UK and 74 per cent in Germany expressed interest in what happens to the plastics that are collected. Despite the interest in recycling, consumers are generally unwilling to invest more to promote production of products that use resources more efficiently, with 28 per cent of Germans, 30 per cent of Poles and 43 per cent of people in the UK expressing unwillingness to pay more.
More people in the UK than in Germany or Poland were shown to have an understanding and high level of awareness regarding environmental terms. 88 per cent understood the term “carbon footprint”, and 81 per cent knew what sustainability means. Fewer consumers, 21 per cent, were aware of resource efficiency, and only 7 per cent recognised the term “circular economy”.
The research has demonstrated that there is a need for greater engagement with consumers so that they recognise the importance of viewing plastic waste as a valuable resource that should not be sent to landfill. In the UK, PlasticsEurope is planning to organise the IdentiPlast waste management conference early in 2019 to promote this consumer engagement.
According to the Chief Executive Officer of RECOUP, Stuart Foster, understanding how plastic packaging management options are viewed by consumers in different countries is important. This will enable effective campaigns to promote consumer engagement to be implemented.