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Blog July 2022 Updated March 2023

Millennials and the Future of our Environment

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Stacey Piggott

Senior Digital Marketing Manager

Millennials are fast becoming the most talked about generation. According to the World Economic Forum, they currently make up around 23% of the world population, making those born between 1980 and 1995 the largest adult cohort worldwide. With a spending power of over $1 trillion in the US alone, it’s little wonder that this generation is getting noticed. What they buy (and how they buy it) will shape the economy. But as Millennials dispose of the items they purchase, we ask ‘what impact will Millennials have on the waste industry?’

Millennials have spending power

The population of planet earth is changing. As Millennials surpass Baby Boomers to become the largest generation group, Millennials are making their presence felt across society.

With around 72.1 million Millennials currently in the US, this group already make up a significant chunk of the workforce; a figure expected to rise to 75% by 2025.

And as those born between 1980 and 1995 come to dominate the workplace, so their purchasing power is set to increase. In 2020, Millennial consumers represented approximately $1.4 trillion in disposable income. As Millennials careers’ progress and this group amass more earning power, it’s likely their peak spending power will be significantly greater.

All of which means this smart young group of consumers has a significant influence over how brands are perceived; which companies do well; and what issues come to dominate the societal landscape.

Sustainability drives Millennial purchasing decisions

Having grown up in a world dominated by globalization and economic disturbance, this generation sees the world differently from its predecessors. Environmental issues feature prominently in their collective psyche.

In fact, the Deloitte Global 2022 Gen Z and Millennial Survey reveals that around three-quarters of Gen Zs and Millennials think the world is at a tipping point when responding to climate change.

Nine in ten make an effort to protect the environment. In the near-term this sees Millennials focusing on small everyday actions like buying secondhand clothes or sourcing locally. Long term, they also have plans to bring sustainability into their larger purchases.

Driven by this generation’s collective concern and its desire to act, businesses are feeling the pressure to adapt their environmental practices.

Sustainability, it seems, is worth the financial commitment. With 63% of millennials willing to pay more for sustainable products, businesses are rethinking both the sustainability of their materials and processes, and the environmental impact and recyclability of their products.

Millennials are wise to greenwashing

Sustainability may be a top priority for Millennials, but this savvy group is also wary of ‘greenwashing’.

Brands that try to airbrush their environmental performance, or who publicize minor eco initiatives in an attempt to distract from less sustainable practices, will receive short shrift.

Last year the Competition and Markets Authority found that 40% of environmental claims made by businesses could be misleading – a deception that Millennials are quick to spot in the era of ‘fake news’.

No doubt this cautious approach is thanks to lifetime of internet access. The Millennial cohort have grown up with smart phones and are accustomed to having a wealth of information at their fingertips.

Not only does this mean Millennials increasingly expect full disclosure on environmental practices backed by a transparent and sustainable supply chain – but also that they see the internet as a key part of their consumer identity.

Digital shoppers are changing the waste stream

Technology has impacted the way Millennials interact with companies of all kinds. In a recent survey of US shopping habits, for example, 61% of Millennials revealed that they find it easier to communicate with a retailer digitally. Text, online chat, or messaging are preferable to speaking with someone in person, or even over the phone.

For waste and recycling companies, this means there is increasing pressure to update their service offering to deliver the digital platform for customer interaction that Millennials expect.

The ability to order collections online, communicate on social media, or even pay via self-service, are options that forward-thinking waste and recycling service providers will want to deliver to keep pace with this change.

The convenience of internet shopping, combined with this reticence to interact in person, also means that 67% of Millennials would rather buy online than in store.

With Millennials increasingly purchasing products on the internet for delivery at home or work, the waste stream itself is being altered. A trend to which the packaging industry has been quick to adapt.

Effective packaging helps brands remain competitive, prevents waste by protecting against damage, and most importantly, should be recyclable.

In the move towards sustainability, there has already been a shift away from single-use packaging materials towards more recyclable alternatives such as cardboard, which has a recycling rate of 82% in the UK.

Just think, for example, of the incredible number of Amazon boxes and paper void fill products transporting goods around the country today. This change has already had an impact on processing in the waste and recycling industry, yet there is still much to do to keep pace with Millennials’ drive towards sustainability.

Millennials views on recycling

Despite their desire to champion sustainability, some Millennials aren’t great recyclers – a challenge that waste and recycling providers are keen to address.

Surprisingly, a recent UK poll revealed that less than fifty per cent of all Millennials recycle items where this would be possible. Contrary to expectations, willingness to recycle increased with age, reaching 70% among 35 to 75-year-olds (this age bracket includes older Millennials).

When questioned about their reluctance to recycle, Millennials cited various reasons including:

  1. Lack of knowledge about things that can be recycled (16%)
  2. Recycling waste collections not being frequent enough (12%)
  3. Lack of required waste bags (11%)

In addition to these factors 7% felt recycling is too time-consuming, and 5% believe that everything ultimately gets mixed up and ends up on the same rubbish dump anyway.

Clearly there’s still a way to go to allay the concerns of this wary generation. Not least because some Millennials feel that the responsibility to improve sustainability lies with businesses rather than individuals. As they see it, large enterprises can achieve more with sustainable environmental policy than they can by sorting their weekly waste.

Can the recycling industry help Millennials improve sustainability?

AMCS believe the answer is yes. As the largest sector of the population, Millennials will be instrumental in realizing environmental change – they just need a little help to realize their ambitions.

So, what can the recycling industry do to harness Millennials’ desire to increase sustainability?

Increase convenience

The first step is to make recycling as hassle-free as possible. When it’s as simple to order and pay for waste collection services as it is to buy goods online, consumers will be more likely to engage in recycling initiatives.

Services such as AMCS Pay make it simple to offer the kind of secure, mobile payment that Millennial customers expect. Increasing choice and convenience will boost uptake. Download the AMCS Pay brochure below to learn more.

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Boost engagement

Transparency is also a key priority. Collaboration between industry and government is required to ensure clear and consistent messaging around recycling.

Technology can further dispel apathy and boost personal commitment, with innovations such as AMCS Vision AI, for example, providing effective resource stream monitoring driven by artificial intelligence. This enables recyclers to detect contamination at source, engage productively with waste producers, and improve recycling rates.

Interested in learning more about how AMCS Vision AI detects waste contamination using AI technology? Download the brochure below.

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Support a circular economy

By adapting to the behaviors of Millennials and collaborating with product and packaging producers, the recycling industry can help consumers recycle better, as well as more.

Dialogue with other supply chain players will help businesses prioritize design for recycling now, ensuring sustainability is baked in to support the global shift towards a circular economy.

With these three factors front of mind, the waste and recycling industry will be well-placed to harness the environmental ambitions of the Millennial generation, supporting them as they invest in a sustainable future.

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