Barriers to returning soft plastics

Sustainability is a core part of brand and retailer perceptions in today’s society, with recycling forming a key part of this. Consumers are keen to see evidence of recyclable and recycled materials, and with this comes a desire to feel like brands or retailers are helping the customer to recycle to the best of their ability. Soft plastics, being harder to recycle, form an important part of this dynamic as consumers need to be aided in order to be able to recycle this type of packaging.

Soft plastics cannot be recycled in home bins, rather they must be taken to a facility that is designed for this sort of material. A number of supermarkets have introduced schemes for customers to bring back soft plastic packaging to the store in order for it to get recycled properly. However, this is still not a very common practice. As part of the most recent wave of our Great Green Sustainability Study, we sought to understand the barriers stopping consumers from returning soft plastics to supermarkets.

There are 3 main areas that arise from our study as barriers consumers feel are in place.

First, accessibility, 77% of consumers claim that not all stores offer this service, suggesting that retailers need to consider offering these recycling points across their whole retail estate and/or make the recycling points more obvious in-store.

The second area is knowledge, with 67% of consumers not knowing which stores to return their packaging to, and 64% not knowing which packaging is accepted at these points. Retailers should consider methods to direct customers to the soft plastic recycling point in-store, while also provide information on what can and can’t be accepted in these points.

The final area is convenience, where 64% feel it is easier to throw the packaging in their home recycling. Unfortunately, soft plastics cannot be recycled using this method, and can often contaminate the recycling and lead to even more rubbish ending up in landfill. Consumers require further education in this space, suggesting there could be some benefit in retailers and local councils collaborating to provide consumers with relevant information and clear guidance on how to recycle different types of packaging.

Overall, consumers want the recycling of soft plastics to be accessible and convenient, while any related information to be easy to find and understand. Comms are going to be increasingly important in making consumers feel they are being aided in this recycling process, especially as sustainability shows no sign in declining both in terms of consumer behaviours and consumer expectations of brands. Brands should consider communicating how to recycle soft plastics on their packaging, making it as simple and clear as possible in order to increase knowledge and allow the consumer to easily know what to do with each part of the packaging.

Meanwhile, retailers should be thinking about increasing awareness and accessibility of these soft plastic recycling points. Having clear recycling points as well as clear information on what is accepted will make consumers feel supported and as such their perceptions of the retailer’s sustainability will increase.

To find out more about our Great Green Sustainability Study or how we can help you with sustainability please contact Tom Gould, Head of Consumer on:

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