Packaging waste: the generational blame game

Whilst global consumer brands continue to step-up to tackle the mounting challenge of ocean plastic waste and create a circular economy for plastic, packaging waste dilemmas still disappear down a wormhole of ‘blind spots’ and ‘buck-passing’.

 

Whilst global consumer brands continue to step-up to tackle the mounting challenge of ocean plastic waste and create a circular economy for plastic, packaging waste dilemmas still disappear down a wormhole of ‘blind spots’ and ‘buck-passing’.

It boils down to a problem no one really wants to own. Everybody’s problem becomes nobody’s, which means it tends not to get solved. But whose responsibility is it really?

Well, according to latest UK research there’s is a marked difference in how different generations feel about this issue:

  • Whilst half of 16-34 year olds are concerned about how much packaging they’re buying, this concern rises to over 70% among over-55s.

With a six-fold increase in global plastic consumption in the last 40 years alone, older generations still remember a time when plastic was scarce and are, therefore, more likely to notice trends towards excess packaging

  • According to 36% of respondents asked who should take the lead in reducing packaging, manufacturers come out top!

Young people, however, see a stronger role for the state: amongst 16-24s year olds one third thinks the government should lead, 22% say manufacturers and only 13% say consumers.  

The older the age group, the greater the move away from supporting government intervention and the more responsibility placed on manufacturers and individuals. Amongst the oldest group (over-65s), 48% believe manufacturers should lead, 23% say consumers, and only 10% think the job lies with the government.

  • Over half (51%) of over-65s cited single-use coffee cups as one of the worst offenders for contributing to packaging waste, in comparison to only a quarter of 16-24s.  Meanwhile, 41% of the oldest age group mentioned takeaway packaging as a particular offender, in contrast with one in four of the younger group.
  • Older consumers are more likely to see the problem as something that can be addressed:

29% are ‘resolved to do their bit’ to solve the crisis, versus only 14% of 16 to 24 year olds.  Younger consumers appear more fatalistic. 22% said they felt helpless in tackling the crisis, compared to only 8% of over 65s.

 

According to Jacob Hayler, executive director of the Environmental Services Association, all players in the packaging supply chain have important roles to play. “Government needs to set a stronger system of producer responsibility for packaging which boosts recycling,” he says. “Retailers need to use their influence over suppliers to encourage more recyclable packaging and over consumers to make greener choices. Packaging manufacturers need to think innovatively about recyclability, while retaining packaging’s vital functionality and role in protecting goods.”

 

Ultimately, a collective shift in our approach to ‘used packaging’ calls for a more circular-economy mindset, one that truly starts seeing waste as a resource and that starts to look at things differently and innovatively.

 

A free smartphone app called Litterati provides a good example of looking differently at packaging waste. The app enables users to identify, collect and ‘geotag’ the world’s litter by actually taking a photo in the process of picking up rubbish. Harnessing the power of crowd-sourced data to map incidences of pollution worldwide, with keywords identifying commonly found brands and products, from fast food to cigarettes, the app’s data is then used to work with companies and organisations to find more sustainable solutions.

 

Such smart use of mobile and digital technology helps boost citizen engagement. It also promotes producer accountability, which is key, says Litterati founder and chief executive Jeff Kirschner.

“The needle moves when consumers demand change, either with their wallet or their words,” he says. “However, as the source, brands themselves wield enormous influence.”

 

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2019-02-05T10:26:26+00:00February 4th, 2019|0 Comments