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Behavior Change
How Retailers, NGOs Can Engage Consumers to Catalyze Circular Economy

Businesses have a critical role to play in cleaning up the global economy, but it is consumers whole truly hold the key to achieving a more sustainable future.

In a new report, PA Consulting Group shows that retailers can build customer loyalty — and grow sales — by providing customers with reasons to stay engaged by returning to stores to resell, recycle and donate clothing and electronics.

Using insights from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s precompetitive innovation program Circular Economy 100 (CE100), Keeping Customer Connections examines how retailers in the US, UK and Europe engage with customers when products are no longer needed using circular economy opportunities.

Data shows that the average American household has unused items in their home totaling $7,000 – that adds up to a wasted $875 billion that could be put back into the US economy. There is a large opportunity for retailers to help customers resell, donate and recycle their products.

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“The circular economy can be a catalyst for spurring new innovations within the organization — from both a cultural perspective, and how it helps companies approach the entire product and service design process from creation to sale,” said Karl Havard, retail expert at PA Consulting Group.

The research found customers were more interested in a convenient buyback scheme from retailers than being able to sell items at a higher price. Respondents said they would resell items if the store where they purchased them offered a convenient buyback program (72 percent for electronics and 66 percent for clothes), while over half would resell items if they thought it would benefit their community and/or the environment.

Consumers also demonstrated considerable interest in donations as a way of decluttering, particularly in the case of electronics. Keeping electronics out of landfill was the main motivator for donating for 78 percent of surveyed consumers, but convenience and good experiences (friendly staff and availability of information) were identified as important determining factors in whether they would ultimately participate in donating schemes.

In terms of recycling, research suggests that retailers will see more items recycled if they make it as easy as possible for consumers to do so. Financial rewards, such as discounts and other similar incentives, could also prompt more recycling practices.

“As we have learned more about reducing waste in our operations, we have embraced the concept of a circular economy, which moves away from a take-make-dispose approach to one where products, their residue or component parts, are cycled back into the economic stream. In order to help our customers more fully maximize the utility of the products they buy, we offer a variety of recycling and donation options such as electronics trade-in opportunities, clothing donations and packaging recycling programs,” said Anna Vinogradova, Senior Manager at Walmart.

Meanwhile, The Guardian reports that environmental NGO The Plastic Tide and the British Science Association (BSA) are calling on the public to help chart plastic pollution on UK beaches.

The two organizations are currently in the process of surveying shorelines across the UK for plastic waste with the aid of drones. The work is being done in an effort to develop an algorithm and cutting-edge computer program that will help clean the oceans by locating, monitoring and mapping where plastic litter builds up by using images captured by drones. In order to achieve this, BSA and The Plastic Tide are asking citizens to tag the images taken by the drone, with the ultimate goal of reach 250,000 tags.

So far, 30 UK beaches and 3,000 pieces of marine litter have been analyzed. The two most prominent items found littering beaches were plastic food packaging (21 percent) and plastic rope and small net pieces.

“The good thing, though, is everyone has the opportunity to be part of the solution. Helping identify rubbish on The Plastic Tide site will be one invaluable way of helping to keep our beaches clean.”


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