Sometimes bad news can bring good news. The increased amount of environmental-related stories in the media, most of them terrifying updates on our suffering planet, seems to be having a positive effect on the public. In the past few years, the number of online searches for information related to recycling has been growing consistently. Since the beginning of the year, however, it has reached a new record.
Using Google searches for recyclables as a proxy for demand, onefourzero found that the demand for information around the term has more than doubled since last year. As this trend is set to continue, there is an increasing likelihood of customers spending more on environmentally friendly products.
After the success of Blue Planet II with naturalist Sir David Attenborough which was aired on BBC late last year, public interest in the subject started to increase, reaching a peak in January with a 90-minute special episode. Not long after, the European Union launched a new strategy to reduce the plastic waste, aiming to ensure that, by 2030, all plastic packaging is recyclable. Consumer giants Coca-Cola and McDonald’s reacted quickly: the first pledged to recycle all packaging by 2030, while the fast-food company announced that 100% of its packaging will come from “renewable, recycled or certified sources” by 2025.
Search demand for recyclables remained higher than the average of previous years for the following three months. But in April, when the government proposed a ban on plastic straws and cotton buds in England, public interest reached another peak. It was also time for Nestle to announce it’s aiming at 100% recyclable/reusable packaging by 2025. Following this example, coffee chain Costa pledged to recycle up to 500m cups a year by 2020, the equivalent of its entire annual use of takeaway cups and one-fifth of the total 2.5bn takeaway coffee cups used in the UK.
Two months later, in June, meat substitute Quorn announced it was ditching non-recyclable black trays for environmentally-friendly options. After a few days, McDonald’s was back in the news, announcing it will replace plastic straws for paper ones in all of its UK and Ireland restaurants. Enough to increase public’s interest in green alternatives again, and another record peak in search demand was registered.
Bottle, paper, straws
Three of the main villains in recent news were also revealed on online search demand. As public awareness of the environmental impact caused by plastic increase, so does the hunt for alternatives. Reusable bottles, straws and cups have dominated the internet, since the beginning of the year, with the latter being the most popular.
“I’m dreaming of a green Christmas”
In the past couple of years, concerns regarding wrapping paper and recyclable alternatives have generated an increased number of online searches. Customers seem to be ever more aware of the waste caused by the biggest holiday celebration.
Searches for terms such as “wrapping paper recyclable” and “recycled cards” are usually popular during the holidays season, but have also shown an overall increase throughout the year.
So far, 2018 has been a good year for recycling initiatives in the UK as the Government has moved the subject into the front of political agenda, and public interest is likely to remain high. But it’s also time to educate the public. A recent study revealed that consumers are confused by the many different recycling symbols found in packaging. It’s an opportunity for government and companies to improve labelling and consumer information, improving their own communications and working together to improve public understanding.
“It’s not just an ESG obligation to make responsible investments, it’s a duty of care to our beautiful planet and for the sustainability of it for future generations”, says Fleur Hicks, Managing Director of onefourzero.
“Online data clearly shows that public awareness of recycling is increasing. Companies have been quick to respond to this growing concern and smart companies will keep track of consumer search and conversation content in order to understand how sustainability issues are impacting wider public opinion about their brands, if the moral obligation is not motivation enough.”
Companies that invest in sustainability and listen to latest data trends for its business decisions are more likely to develop a positive relationship with public and society – and ultimately see better returns.