Plastic packaging is the largest sector of the plastics industry, representing almost 40% of total plastic consumption, most of which is thrown away within minutes of opening. Reports tell us that globally, just 9% of plastics gets recycled with both waste and production increasing yearly. From 1950 to 2020, plastic production is said to have increased from around two 2 million tons to more than 500 million tons. By 2050 this figure is projected to increase to over 500 million tons. [i]
There’s no doubt that plastics play an important role in modern society. However, there needs to be a significant shift towards a more circular and sustainable plastics system if we are to reduce the impact on the environment. But where does the responsibility for this lie?
In quantilope’s 2022 Consumer Trends in Sustainability study, which examines consumers’ perceptions and behaviours around the topic of sustainability, most respondents strongly agreed that protecting the environment is one of the most important issues of our times. When UK respondents were asked who they thought was accountable for our relationship with the environment, the top answer given was that businesses and manufacturers were strongly responsible for today’s environmental problems (73%), while only 54% of respondents said they thought it was down to their own behaviour.
Beyond the general findings on consumer attitudes and price sensitivity detailed in the study, quantilope’s automated segmentation methodology was used to identify consumer sustainability segments in both the UK and German market and discover their specific needs around sustainability when buying food.
Three clear segments were identified – the Broad Brushers, the Ingredient Inspectors, and the Waste Warriors. In Germany, 42% of consumers are segmented as Waste Warriors, with the remaining sample split evenly between Broad Brushers and Ingredient Inspectors. In the UK, each of the three segments happen to be roughly the same size.
The Broad Brushers have a holistic concern with regards to sustainability, considering a large spread of issues to be equally important – such as reducing plastic, natural ingredients, and the protection of animals and wildlife.
Ingredient Inspectors look heavily into what goes into the foods they eat. They look for all-natural, cruelty-free products with no artificial ingredients, antibiotics, or harmful chemicals.
Finally, the Waste Warriors’ actions stem from personal beliefs, which are focused on recycling and reducing waste. Sustainable packaging is at the top of their agenda, with issues such as recyclable packaging, recycled-material products, zero waste, reusable packaging, reducing plastic in the ocean, zero-plastic alternatives, and biodegradability all scoring highly as important concerns.
In both markets, this segment strongly agrees that ‘Protecting the environment is one of the most important issues of our time’.
Knowing that most consumers are taking actions in various ways to protect the environment, and that consumers have different needs regarding sustainability, brands can consider how to tailor their marketing or product mix to appeal to the range of needs that exist in the market.
Brands need to carefully consider their actions when tackling issues around sustainability. How we communicate with consumers will depend on their individual needs, attitudes and behaviour. By segmenting consumers, we can identify and prioritise different groups. For example, any effort around reducing waste or recycling products will resonate with Waste Warriors.
Brands that adopt a segmentation strategy can help meet consumer expectations in working toward a more sustainable future, while also building trust and loyalty among their customers.
[i]Plastics, the circular economy and Europe’s environment – A priority for action. European Environment Agency, 2021