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Global survey shows that price and design influence plastic purchasing habits

Economist Impact, in co-operation with The Nippon Foundation, surveyed consumers and executives in early 2021 to understand their opinions about plastic waste and its management

The consumer survey encompassed 1,800 people around the world, with half from Generation Z (1997-2003) and Millennials (1981-96), while the other half were from Generation X (1965-80) and Baby Boomers (1946-64). The executive survey covered almost 800 business executives from a variety of sectors, including chemicals, construction, electronics, fast-moving consumer goods and healthcare.

Some of the survey’s key results are summarised below.

Plastic items are too cheap and too ubiquitous for consumers to reduce their use or increase recycling.

  • Almost 60% of consumer respondents at best only sometimes purchase products with limited plastic components, while 22% said they rarely or never purchased such products, and 37% said they only sometimes purchased them.
  • 41% said they purchased products with limited plastic components frequently or always.




  • 43% of consumer respondents said the high cost of non-plastic items was the main barrier to reducing plastic use or increasing recycling.
  • 36% said convenience was the main barrier, because items in their local stores all had plastic packaging.
  • 21% said they found it difficult to understand which materials are recyclable.




Plastic items are too cheap and too ubiquitous for consumers to reduce their use or increase recycling.

  • 19% of consumer respondents never segregate their waste and 42% sometimes do.
  • 39% said they always segregate their waste.




  • Among those who rarely or only sometimes segregate their waste, 62% said that the primary waste collectors will mix all waste together while dumping at a centralised location, so they see no value doing this.
  • 57% said segregating waste was too time-consuming, while 27% said they were not aware of the benefits.




Consumers want cheap and sustainably designed products.

  • 54% of consumer respondents said that they would buy substitute products with lesser packaging (or more sustainable packaging options) if they cost the same or less than “regular” products.
  • 25% said they try to buy items with less plastic packaging where possible.
  • 21% said they don’t make purchasing decisions based on the amount of plastic packaging.




  • 70% of consumer respondents agreed that sustainable packaging and product design would help reduce plastic use.




  • 61% agreed that incentives provided by retailers and producers would be effective.



  • 50% felt that charges or fees on plastic items would be effective.




Executives support extended producer responsibility for plastic-producing and -using businesses.

  • 43% of executive respondents strongly agreed and 40% agreed that businesses that produce or use plastic should be partly responsible for funding the collection and recycling of those products.
  • 11% neither agreed nor disagreed, and only 5% disagreed.



Executives agree that optimising plastic production will prevent the problems of increasing plastic waste, but most organisations are yet to focus on sustainable product design.

  • 33% of executive respondents strongly agreed and 30% agreed that optimising plastic production is an important step in preventing the increase of plastic waste.
  • 27% neither agreed nor disagreed.



  • Only 37% of executive respondents said their organisations had applied sustainable product design as a measure to optimise plastic use across their supply chains.




Executives believe consumers will pay more for products or services that are more sustainable.

  • 74% of executive respondents believe that consumers will pay a higher amount for more sustainable products or services.
  • 16% of respondents were on the fence, and 10% disagreed or strongly disagreed with that view.


 

 


The Back to Blue Plastic Management Index has been launched. It examines plastic management through the lens of policy, regulation, business practice and consumer actions at a country level.



 

 

 


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