Consumers think the packaging recovery note (PRN) system allows manufacturers to duck responsibility for tackling waste, research for Suez has found.
They told Suez’s researchers they were “shocked” by the system’s existence, and felt that packaging producers were shirking their responsibilities by simply buying compliance.
It also failed to give incentives to move towards more sustainable products and packaging, they told social research firm Britain Thinks, which spoke to 2,000 people about waste services, consumption habits, recycling and producer responsibility.
Some 84% felt that manufacturers should take greater responsibility for funding the treatment of waste arising from their products and packaging, while 55% thought manufacturers should bear all these costs.
Backing came from 75% of participants for the idea that manufacturers should pay a deposit on products and packaging, and get back money based only on the proportion that is recycled.
But respondents also feared that producers would pass on these costs in higher prices, and that local authorities would retain any savings made without cutting council tax.
Participants also feared producer-funded systems could make recycling more complex and inconvenient.
Consumers said they would want incentives from the manufacturers for supporting any producer-operated schemes – such as loyalty card points.
The majority said they never or rarely considered the environmental impact of purchases.
But 57% claimed environmental labels would influence purchasing decisions, while 67% would be more likely to purchase the more sustainable brands, though most would do so only if this was also the cheaper option.
Suez Recycling and Recovery UK chief executive David Palmer-Jones (pictured) said the results showed that sustainability was not “at the forefront of shoppers’ minds”, but mandatory product labelling could see consumers “vote with their wallets and shun products and packaging that cannot be recycled easily”.
Palmer-Jones said: “It is clear from this research that consumers want manufacturers to take more financial responsibility for the waste arising from the products and packaging they sell in the UK – and that the current regime is failing to deliver sustainability improvements for some items we all buy and discard every day.
“Consumers are willing to play their part and…even tolerate unpopular cost increases in the short term if it resulted in a better outcome for the environment in the long term.”
Suez has argued that the Government’s expected resources and waste strategy for England should include policies to make manufacturers more financially responsible for their products once discarded, and that a radical change in the long-term sustainability of products and packaging could be achieved by making manufacturers responsible for between 80-100% of recycling and disposal costs.