Prioritise consumer awareness of circular economy, Printwaste urges businesses


The 2022 Circularity Gap Report highlights the harsh reality of climate change over the past five years, since its first report was released. Between the time when the Paris Agreement was reached in December 2015, deemed historic, and COP26 held in Glasgow last year, more than half a trillion tonnes of virgin materials were consumed. Virgin material is the unused raw material that has never been subjected to any processing other than for its production. And in fact, the report gloomily continues, the Circularity Gap got worse, not better.

As part of its latest report, it has outlined a set of 21 circular strategies, enabling the world to achieve the Paris Agreement’s goal of keeping it at 1.5-degrees of warming by 2032* by cutting emissions by 22.8 billion tonnes, a 39% reduction from 2019 levels.

Some of these key strategies are wholly reliant on the recycling and reuse and of materials to drive them forward – strategies from circular construction materials, vehicles and consumables to a circular healthcare system. The report emphasises that “transitioning to a fully circular economy within a generation will require urgent and large-scale actions from all parts of society. National and local governments will need to provide direction and enabling conditions, consumers will need to make choices that encourage circularity and businesses will need to redesign their processes and products from the ground up.”

This is the crux of the matter: while it is the crucial role of authorities and businesses to raise awareness, it is consumer knowledge that will drive these strategies forward to ensure we achieve these critical targets.

A recent survey by risk management experts DNV suggests that while consumer knowledge of the circular economy is growing and their attitude towards it is generally positive, trust in companies however requires ‘strengthening’ while more ‘innovation and legislation’ is needed to drive increased engagement and action. The findings have revealed how ‘essential’ consumer knowledge is to fuel the circular economy, with as many as 35.8% not aware of what it actually is, creating a vital opportunity for increasing consumers’ level of involvement through awareness, education and engagement.

Almost all respondents think consumers can play a role in the circular economy (86.1%), with 65.4% of this figure believing they can contribute through purchasing sustainable products and correct recycling. What is noticeable from the survey’s feedback is that consumers are looking for manufacturers and companies to be more proactive, with the majority of them thinking that companies and brands should take responsibility for recyclability and end of product life as well as being more innovative. This “creates an opportunity to reach out through multiple channels, on multiple topics in a transparent way to build engagement and trust in the circular transition.” Only 1 in 5 participants – a mere 20% - mentioned information coming from manufacturers and suppliers directly, reflecting that businesses may need to work on amplifying their message and building trust.

Don Robins, Managing Director of Cheltenham-based family-run firm Printwaste, said:

“Collaboration at every level is key to a successful circular economy. That’s why the responsibility lies with us all to ensure end-of-life products are created and disposed of correctly, enabling them to be re-purposed back into recyclable resources. Innovation into sustainability from manufacturers should continue to be encouraged, whilst education for consumers will help drive greater participation. This also offers companies the opportunity to shape and implement a more innovative business model, benefiting their bottom line and the planet at the same time.

“Waste management companies must also help products get recycled by providing a sustainable route to disposal.”