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Circular Economy? Most consumers lack circularity understanding despite recycling, Hi-Cone report reveals

March 27, 2021
Chemical Value Chain

Hi-Cone is publishing its latest “State of Plastic Recycling” report, detailing a lack of consumer understanding of the term “circular economy.”

However, the YouGov-conducted survey of more than 5,000 adults across the US, Mexico, Spain and the UK found 75 percent of adults regularly recycle at home.

Ninety-one percent believe recycling plastic is beneficial to the environment, but 32 percent believe a quarter or less of what they put in the recycling bin is actually recycled.

Moreover, 80 percent of those who do not recycle all plastic say they would do so more frequently if they had access to more facilities and guidance.

In all four countries, respondents identified a key group of stakeholders – CPGs, plastic packaging manufacturers, governments and consumers – as being primarily responsible for providing effective plastic recycling resources and solutions.

However, Elizabeth Sheaffer, director of global strategic marketing at Hi-Cone, explains recycling is just one component of the circular economy.

“If we just focus on just recycling, then we are overlooking other environmental solutions and challenges to combat waste and create a robust circular loop for materials. Packaging as part of the circular economy looks at the whole lifecycle, including the recovery,” she tells PackagingInsights.

Recognizing reusability
Reusable packaging models are regarded as integral to the circular economy by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Zero Waste Europe and other authorities and often seen as preferable to recycling.

Innova Market Insights recently crowned “Reusable Revolution” as its fifth top packaging trend for 2021, spotlighting the increasing scalability of reusable packaging models targeting a zero-waste world.

According to market researcher’s consumer survey, the majority of global consumers (52 percent) believe reusable packaging is the most sustainable packaging model, followed by recyclable (50 percent), biodegradable (31%) and compostable (24%) (2021).

“Our [Hi-Cone’s] findings show that nearly 9 in 10 adults report perceiving reusable packaging as being ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ environmentally friendly,” says Sheaffer.

“While this perception is certainly a positive one, there is still more to be done to ensure all packaging is reusable, and this can only be achieved through public support and international cooperation.”

“Considerable progress has been made in minimizing plastic waste through a robust reuse and recycling infrastructure,” adds Shawn Welch, group president, packaging equipment and consumables platform at Hi-Cone.

“The information contained in this new report will help stakeholders further accelerate the transition from a traditional, linear economy, in which used products simply become waste, to a far more vibrant and sustainable circular economy.”

Hi-Cone’s sustainability goals
Hi-Cone is a leading supplier of ring carrier multi-packaging systems for global beverage markets. The company is committed to reducing virgin plastic use, contributing to a circular future for packaging and developing next-generation solutions.

Long a proponent of a circular economy for plastic, Hi-Cone has made considerable strides in its own sustainability journey. Among them are several cross-industry partnerships, including a recycling partnership with TerraCycle in the UK and Avangard Innovative in the US.

Moreover, Hi-Cone launched its RingCycles carrier solution with more than 50 percent post-consumer recycled (PCR) content, reducing virgin plastic more than half.

Molson Coors adopted Hi-Cone’s recycled plastic rings for its Coors Light six-packs last year in Ontario, Canada. The RingCycles solution reportedly requires 90 percent less non-renewable energy and 83 percent less water to make.

“A significant goal for Hi-Cone is to have 100 percent of its products made from PCR content in 2022. Hi-Cone also aims to be 100 percent recyclable, biodegradable or compostable by 2025,” adds Sheaffer.

Binning plastic pollution
By releasing the “State of Plastic Recycling” report each year, Hi-Cone aims to provide a comprehensive, up-to-date resource to support its sustainability efforts and those of the global packaging industry.

“We believe all stakeholders can do more to educate themselves and others. Cooperation at a local, national and international level is key to build an integrated infrastructure that provides effective plastic recycling resources and solutions,” Sheaffer tells PackagingInsights.

For example, most UK respondents (62 percent) believe more recycling bins are needed in public spaces, according to the YouGov survey.

Moreover, 38 percent believe more recycling centers are required, while 34 percent want more home facilities, such as recycling collections and recycling bins.

On a positive note, the UK boasts a high percentage of consumers (61 percent) already sending materials to recycling facilities through the post who would likely continue doing so in the future.

Welch adds: “As 2021 unfolds, people will re-adjust to life in a post-pandemic world, experiencing many changes; some minor, others profound. Among them will be the ever-present need for greater action in realizing an efficient and effective circular economy for plastic.”

“By working together, through focused and purposeful application of the recommendations presented in Hi-Cone’s 2021 ‘State of Plastic Recycling’ report, we can all help make these meaningful goals a reality.”

By Joshua Poole


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