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Poll: If Americans are Expected to Recycle, It Has to be Easy

Poll: If Americans are Expected to Recycle, It Has to be Easy
A newly released poll indicates action by brands and government can help improve recycling behavior.

While traditionally the effort to increase recycling rates has focused on education and awareness, a new study among more than 2,000 Americans conducted by the Harris Poll on behalf of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) suggests action by brands and government may play a significant role as well.

The survey was conducted online in the U.S. from September 17-19 among 2,003 U.S. adults. The poll revealed two-thirds (66 percent) of Americans agree that “if a product is not easy/convenient for me to recycle, I probably would not recycle it.” The poll also provides insights into ways the two sectors can better drive recycling.

“Understanding what is recyclable and what is not, can be confusing,” said Robin Wiener, president of ISRI, in a statement. “The easier it is for people to understand if a product is recyclable, the more likely it is to make its way to the recycling stream. This includes not only making products that are easy to recycle through design for recycling and product labeling but making recycling convenient through collection efforts.”

In addition to finding significance in the ease and convenience of recycling an item, the survey provided the following takeaways for brand owners:

  • The vast majority of Americans would like to see manufacturers and/or retailers display a “Recycling Guide” label on products (similar to the Energy Guide label on appliances) that would detail the parts and percentage of the product that could be recycled and how (81 percent). Having this information more prominent may help Americans consider these aspects of their product when making a purchase—or it could also encourage recycling of the product or package when disposing of it.
  • Younger Americans (aged 18-34) are more likely to consider the products packaging than older Americans (older than 34)—including whether or not the packaging can be recycled (17 percent/11 percent), what the package is made of (16 percent/9 percent) and whether the package is made from recycled materials (16 percent/8 percent). This could be an important aspect for brands targeting the purchasing power of millennials.

“Promoting recycling goes far beyond corporate social responsibility for brands,” stated Wiener. “This survey reveals that clearly indicating a product's recyclability, as well as the use of recyclable packaging, could have a positive impact on a brand’s bottom line. This makes good economic sense and is a win for the environment.”

The survey also found government can set an example for Americans by prioritizing recyclable materials. In fact, four in five Americans (80 percent) agree that governments at all levels should prioritize the use of recyclable products/material when making purchasing decisions. Recycling is demand driven; thus, increasing the use of recyclable materials in manufacturing is critical to the success of recycling. This is also an important takeaway for brands participating in the government procurement process.

The study also found that 86 percent of U.S. adults agree recycling collection sites need to be more readily accessible to consumers. The survey also looked at American’s attitudes toward curbside collection programs. Detailed results are available here.

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