CIRC4Life Webinar on ways to encourage consumer engagement in the circular economy

3 December 2020

On 20th October 2020, our partner CEPS organised a webinar called “How to encourage consumer engagement in the circular economy”. The event gathered 70 participants including representatives from national governments, EU institutions, NGO’s, academia and businesses.

Drawing on the results of CIRC4Life, which implements circular economy business models in different value chains, this event presented examples of circular business models and discuss how to engage consumers in circular practices as their buy-in is key to unlocking the potential of new circular approaches.

A welcome was given by Vasileios Rizos, Research Fellow & Head of Sustainable Resources and Circular Economy from CEPS who gave an overview of the topic and introduced the EU Circular Economy Action Plan and its focus on consumer empowerment. He highlighted that despite expressed willingness to act sustainability, this often does not materialize into action.

Julia Nevmerzhitskaya, Senior Lecturer, Research, Development and Innovation, Laurea University of Applied Sciences as the moderator, reminded the audience of why there is a need to take action to further encourage consumers to engage in the circular economy. She highlighted that considering the rate of consumption growth, the role of consumers must therefore be addressed. However, communication and awareness is not enough, as previous efforts have shown that people do not behave in a rational way. She raised the challenge of understanding human decision making as it is a complex process which is not fully understood yet. The key challenge will be to address the gap between intention and action, and in order to do that it will be necessary to understand what factors affect our behaviour.

 

Olalla Michelena, Director of the EU Delegation, Make Mothers Matter provided the audience with an overview of the CIRC4Life project through a video, and briefly addressed the areas within the project focusing on incentivising consumers through eco-credits. She then gave a brief summary of the state of consumer involvement in the project before highlighting that household consumption accounts for 70% of greenhouse gas emissions and that 80% of family purchasing decisions in OECD countries are made by women. She presented the results of the three surveys completed by MMM on how to better engage end-users in the circular economy. They showed that circular economy policies should consider the direct economic and social impacts on consumers, time required, social and cultural factors, the role of women and the need for information on product sustainability to be translated in a way that consumers understand and respond to. A summary of the results are available on the dedicated leaflet. As recommendations to policy makers she raised the need to target families and in particular mothers, co-create solutions to make the circular transition relevant to everyone in addition to being accessible and affordable to all.

 

A presentation was given by Ángel Rodrìguez Pérez from the NGO Consorcio Valencia Interior on the existing incentive scheme in the Region of Valencia, myEnvironmental Account. It is a public policy initiative to incentivize increased separate waste collection. By using a personal identification card, the type and amount of waste delivered is registered in an online ICT platform where the user collects reward points each time the card holder or family member recycle at the recycling centre. The points are converted into economic benefits, which can be up to 50% reduction of the tax for waste treatment. At the moment, the scheme has around 36 000 active users. After having introduced the incentive scheme they have seen an increase of 23% of tonnes of waste managed, with a significant increase in waste delivered to the recycling centre. He shared the lessons learned from the programme, such as the fact that only 20% of the citizens are involved in the scheme and it might not be suitable for everyone as society is diverse. Despite the significant increase in collection at the recycling centre, only special municipal waste (bulky and hazardous household waste) is taken there. The common flow of household waste is collected in other ways, so for the incentive system to be fully effective it should be adapted to the other flows. Finally, he mentioned that currently the scheme follows the principle, ‘the more you throw the less you pay’ and the challenge to have a message consistent with the waste hierarchy.

 

Evaristo Garcia, Project Manager at Recyclia began with an introduction of Recyclia and their role within the CIRC4Life-project working on the incentive scheme and the demo case for recycling of tablets. He then mentioned the Commission behavioural study on consumer engagement in the circular economy, which shows that 93% of consumers keep unused devices for a long time instead of recycling them. According to results of the consumers surveys conducted in the project, consumers believe the device might be useful in the future, they have concerns regarding personal data or lack of information on where to bring the device for recycling. Answering the question of what can be done to engage end-users and change their disengagement, he introduced the eco-credits reward scheme developed within CIRC4Life which seeks to reward consumers for their sustainable actions. He gave an overview of the scheme and how the eco-credits are calculated. He also explained how the reward scheme is promoted by local businesses by offering discounts, by local public administrations by offering tickets for local theatres and the option of choosing to donate them  for environmental or social actions such as tree planting. The latter option was added after survey results showed that some end-users prefer to donate collected points to environmental causes like tree planning instead of receiving discounts to purchase new products. An important lesson learnt from the project is that it is difficult to foresee the preferences of end-users.

As a way to wrap up and summarise the discussions, Julia Nevmerzhitskaya invited the speakers to deliver a short key message:

Olalla Michelena: Any circular solution should consider the direct economic and social impact and the required investment in time.

Evaristo Garcìa: Circular economy is the future, we need all agents in the supply chain across all sectors to be involved with a common strategy.

Ángel Rodrìguez Pérez: In order to encourage our neighbours to take an active part in the circular economy it is necessary to understand the impact of consumer-related decisions. The incentive scheme is not enough in itself, we have to translate the message to make it understandable to all target groups and to understand what behaviours really contribute to closing the loop.

For more information, a summary of the event and the presentations are shared on the event page here.