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Access to quality cullet through effective recycling programs is critical for glass manufacturers. Using 100% recyclable glass containers in the raw materials mix reduces energy use and natural resources, cuts CO2 emissions, and improves economic efficiencies.
Since consumer recycling is key to returning high-quality recycled glass for use in new glass bottles, in spring 2013, the Glass Packaging Institute partnered with EcoFocus Worldwide Research to conduct a survey of 4,046 nationally representative adults ages 18-65 to assess knowledge, attitudes and beliefs about packaging materials and recycling.
A first report from that survey data looked at consumer packaging preferences. A second, more recent assessment of the data mined factors that influence recycling across six census regions—Midwest, Southeast, West, Northeast, Southwest and the Mid-Atlantic—and in 12 key states. Survey questions explored overall consumer outlook on the environment, and examined habits, outlook, and perceptions regarding recycling practices for glass bottles and other packaging.
Consumer Survey Findings
First, attitudes about the environment vary considerably from region to region. This indicates a need to develop tailored recycling messaging by region, and in some cases, by state, to complement recycling attitudes and issues.
While attitudes vary, however, consumer respondents across all regions and age groups said that a primary environmental driver is concern for loss of natural resources. As a result, survey respondents indicated that they actively look for ways to make their home or lifestyle “greener or more eco-friendly.” This is especially true in the 21-35 age group, which also believes that small changes add up and that eco-friendliness improves quality of life. Consumers are also willing to pay more for products that are environmentally appealing, but are less likely to accept compromises on product performance.
Participation in recycling is high overall. It is extremely high in a few regions, such as the West and Northeast. Those in the 56-65 age group are more likely to recycle and feel that doing so is worth the effort. Those in the 18-20 age range feel it is worth it, but are actually least likely to recycle.
Unsurprisingly, consumers living in regions that have bottle deposit laws and curbside recycling programs in place had much higher rates of recycling participation than those in regions without such policies. However, consumers are concerned that despite their efforts, many recyclables they put into recycling bins eventually end up in landfills. Younger survey respondents are most inclined to be skeptical about whether or not recycled materials are actually recycled. Survey data also showed that if consumers were confident about the value of their recycling efforts, it might induce them to recycle more.
Takeaways for Glass Bottle Recycling
What does this mean for glass bottle recycling? Overall, these survey results support the fact that consumers want to recycle and would be encouraged to make more efforts to recycle with assurances that, for example, glass bottles were being returned to make new bottles. Survey findings also support the 2014 Resource Recycling Systems research that shows curbside recycling programs and bottle deposit programs are complementary and support higher levels of participation in recycling. Finally, the survey information sheds light on the need for recycling messaging that is state specific, as well as targeted to distinct consumer populations.
Any views or opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not represent those of Ceramic Industry, its staff, Editorial Advisory Board or BNP Media.