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16th June 2021

Consumer recycling insights retailers need to know

By TFRG Team

Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the impact their purchase decisions have on the environment and sustainability.

In fact, as they embrace social causes and responsibilities, they seek new brands that align with their values.

A recent survey* by IBM suggested that six in 10 people are willing to change their shopping habits to reduce environmental impact. It also highlighted that nearly eight in 10 indicated sustainability is important to them. 

The research also noted that 44% of respondents said it’s ‘very important’ to use brands that recycle, with a third marking it as ‘moderately important’.


So, what other recycling trends and insights should retailers be aware of? How can they use these to inform their sustainability goals?

And how can the TRFG support them in achieving such aims?

Recycling in the UK

Self-reported recycling in the UK has increased over the last 12 months.

89% of consumers say they regularly recycle, with 56% reporting they are recycling more in the past year. 

With that in mind, there are still plenty of opportunities for consumers to increase recycling rates, and it’s time for retailers to give them more options.

Consumers are wanting more support and information from retailers, manufacturers and local councils on recycling initiatives. Just over half, (56%) say that they dispose of items that could have been collected or recycled from their home.

In order to help tackle such issues, guidance could be provided in the form of printable guides alongside simple leaflet instructions on where and how consumers can recycle products.

Household recycling rates 

Following on from the above trend, England’s 2019/2020 recycling rate has risen by rising by 0.4% to 45.5%. The amount of waste from households sent to recycling also increased by 0.9% from the previous year.

Although it is important to note that the DEFRA recycling statistics do not include much of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Despite the positive figures, the rate still falls short of the UK calendar target set by the European Commission. 

Without the help of business and public initiatives to provide logistics, consumers are limited on their recycling options.

Plastic recycling

A key strength of plastic is its recyclability. It provides a sustainable source of raw materials to the industry, and reduces the environmental impact of plastic-rich products.

With this in mind, it is encouraging to see that the rate for plastic recycling also continues to grow year on year. It has increased from 13,000 tonnes in 2000 to almost 380,000 in 2020.

Data suggests that 50% of plastic packaging is recycled, this is guided by an additional 77% of plastic drinks bottles.

59% of plastic bottles are collected for recycling and 32% of all plastic is recycled.

It highlights that 86% of plastic packaging is recovered – meaning that it is repurposed and not distributed to landfill. It also suggests that the majority of post-consumer plastic is recovered (78%).

It may be that this move towards more plastic recycling has been steered by Government initiatives such as the plastic bag tax from 2015 and the suggested latte levy from 2019 for example – encouraging both businesses and consumers to do their part to reuse and recycle where they can.

Mattress recycling 

Mattresses are a global environmental nightmare, and the changing consumer behaviour is behind this ever-growing mattress mountain.

With consumers being advised to change their mattress around every eight years, and with more retailers offering a greater choice than ever before – it’s no surprise that the landfill issue continues to exist.

But according to the National Bed Federation (NBF), there has been a 55% increase in the number of mattresses being handled by recyclers between 2015 and 2017, with evidence to support that this will continue to grow.

And for new mattress replacement sales, the recycling rate has increased from 15% in 2016 to 19% in 2017.

It is estimated that around 181,500 tonnes of mattresses were disposed of by households, at a cost of over £20m. Of these, only 19% were diverted from landfill to mattress recycling businesses.

Action needs to be taken by mattress retailers to ensure that this figure improves, through sharing advice with customers on how they can recycle unwanted products via take back schemes for example, as well as guides on how consumers can safely and correctly dispose of their mattresses.

Here at The Furniture Recycling Group, we work alongside businesses and local authorities in the UK to recycle and repurpose mattress materials, creating a circular economy for mattresses we process.

Providing a sustainable outlet for diffitual waste stream, we’re proud to state that we divert 100% of mattresses we process.

Recycling in Europe

At an EU-level, more waste has been recycled than was sent to landfill for the first time ever.

More specifically, for plastic packaging waste, figures show over a 10 year period that the level of recycling has increased by 74% whilst landfilling has decreased by 53%. Plastic waste recycling has also risen by almost 80%.

Despite these improvements, the situation however varies significantly among European countries, with around nine million tonnes of waste still being sent to landfill.

Though it is promising to see that the EU has set targets for member nations to recycle at least 70% of all packaged goods by 2030, and for household recycling rates to be around 65% by 2035.

Recycling around the world 

Unfortunately, global recycling rates still provide shocking statistics – with more and more plastic and waste ending up in landfill, incinerators or even littering the environment.

By not recycling correctly, consumers globally are producing 2.12 million tonnes of waste every year (equivalent to 40 Titanics).

Of this, a noteworthy 91% of plastic waste is still not recycled by consumers, much of which ends up in landfills. And from manufacturers alone, around 300 million tonnes of plastic waste is produced, half of which is single-use.

This strengthens the argument for retailers, all over the world, to support consumers with easy to consume recycling advice and provide guidance on how to correctly dispose of products.

Consumers’ awareness of sustainability

In a more positive stance – recent statistics show that 79% of consumers are changing their purchase preferences based on social responsibility and environmental impact.

The impact of Covid-19 is also showing some encouraging data. Consumers have reported an increase in awareness and commitment to buying sustainably as a result of the last 12 months.

But, retailers need to take action to help close the gap between what consumers think and actually know when it comes to sustainability and production values of products.

There is a great need for more sustainability-related information to be available to consumers on a day to day basis, and reinforces the importance of brands driving the sustainability agenda.

Retailers also need to better understand their shoppers and needs. Around 44% of consumers stated that they do not trust product sustainability claims.

Retailers should provide proven results and transparency, showing the journey of products.

Sustainability needs a makeover, consumers need to be more excited and motivated by the issue.

Retailers need to reveal in simple, positive terms what consumers can easily relate to, driving them to take immediate action. Brands need to show and tell so that customers can digest the benefits in a way to suit them and be inspired by.

Guidance could include easily accessible documentation around how each item is produced, what they consist of and the sustainability elements.

Consumers’ behaviour towards sustainability

And with an increase in awareness of sustainability, so comes the change in consumer behaviour towards sustainability.

The question is – are consumers willing to pay more for sustainable products? The short answer is, yes.

Due to the ongoing pandemic, 67% of consumers said that they will be more cautious about the scarcity of natural resources. 65% also commented that they will be more mindful about the impact of their overall consumption in what is referred to as the “new normal”.

Reports also show the concerns around sustainability are also affecting consumer buying habits.

53% of consumers overall, (57% in the 18-24 age group) are making switches to lesser known brands. Simply because they know they are sustainable.

Furthermore, 52% of consumers said that they share an emotional connection with products or organisations that they perceive to be sustainable.

This is supported by 64% of consumers, who stated that buying sustainable items makes them happy with their purchases. This increased to 72% in the 25-35 age group.

With this in mind – this changing consumer behaviour reiterates the importance of both retailers and manufacturers having well-documented and supported sustainability initiatives in place that can feed this evolving customer need.

We work with national bed retailers tackling mattress recycling and mattress disposal and will not rest until 100% of all mattresses in the UK are diverted from landfill, recycled and fed back into the economy as pristine new materials.

Want to find out more? Head to our Case Studies page.

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