Nine out of 10 UK consumers have not heard of the ‘circular economy’

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A survey of 2,000 UK consumers found that nine out of 10 people have never heard of the circular economy.

The survey of consumers (93% female) across all age groups was commissioned by The Pull Agency, a creative agency specialising in health and beauty brands.

The new data also showed that almost three-quarters of UK consumers (71%) do not think brands and retailers are doing enough to make their beauty and personal care purchases (including hair styling, grooming/shaving and sun care products) more sustainable. Almost all of those surveyed (94%) think brands need to be more transparent about their sustainability credentials.

When asked what solution they most want to see, one in five consumers (19%) would like less packaging in their beauty and personal care products, while 17% would like more products with natural ingredients and 15% want in-store refill stations so they can re-use existing containers. The other areas of interest are sustainable packaging (12%) and in-store recycling bins (11%).

Only 9% have sent packaging back to the manufacturer for refills and only 14% have used a refill service, suggesting consumers aren’t always behaving in the way they claim or brands expect, when it comes to sustainability behaviours, according to The Pull Agency.

Claire Rance, head of brand strategy at The Pull Agency, said: “Sustainability has become a key element of some beauty and personal care brands’ marketing, especially when targeting younger audiences, but this research suggests many of them still have a long way to go. They may also be focusing on behaviours that consumers are reluctant to actually pursue, like returning containers to the manufacturer for refills or recycling.

“It’s an issue where they will have to be more transparent if they don’t want to get left behind – and the fact that so few consumers have even heard of the ‘circular economy’ doesn’t help their cause.”

The survey also revealed 45% of UK consumers say they look for symbols to show their health and beauty products use recycled materials, and two-thirds (67%) have recycled old packaging from those products themselves.

Other sustainability certifications and kitemarks, however, are less well-known. For example, only 8% of shoppers look for the Soil Association symbol and only 12% look for Ecocert.

Affordability remains the number one factor (57%) affecting which health and beauty and personal care products people choose, although 88% say they would pay more for products that had genuine sustainability credentials.

“Consumers are looking for evidence of a sustainable approach, like the leaping bunny, but most of the certifications currently aren’t on shoppers’ radar and it suggests those organisations need to do more work to promote their efforts,” said Rance.

“Beauty and personal care brands have to see sustainability as an opportunity to better connect and engage with their audiences. We’ve all seen how the environment has been positively impacted by the lockdowns and quarantines of 2020, and consumers expect brands to do their utmost to keep things moving in the right direction.”

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