Do sustainability and convenience mix?

* 3 min read
Convenience is a trend that seems as though it’s here to stay - IGD figures show that convenience shopping is set to be worth £47.1bn by 2022, and stats from GlobalData predict that the convenience sector will grow 4.1 per cent in 2018 alone, outperforming the total UK grocery market by 0.9 percentage points.

But can convenience and sustainability ever live amicably side by side, when on-the-go product and packaging formats – plus a lack of public facilities for disposing of waste – add up to a less than convenient situation for consumers? According to RECOUP, a charity working to reduce plastic waste, only 42 per cent of local authorities currently provide refuse collection units in public spaces, and this covers both general litter (landfill) and recycling units. High footfall areas like train stations and airports have seen the complete removal of waste disposal amid security concerns, making it even harder for consumers to dispose of their waste responsibly. Technology is helping to alleviate security concerns in places like airports, with bins that scan packaging and only let you dispose of something bought within the confines of a secure zone, but there’s still not enough being done to encourage consumers to change their behaviours to reduce the inconvenience – for example, taking a refillable water bottle with you to the airport.

To resolve these issues, takes action from consumers, brands and authorities, to ensure it’s possible to do the right thing at every stage of the product lifecycle when you’re out of home. But that doesn’t mean unilateral action from one stakeholder group can’t make a difference. Small actions over several areas can help ease the tension between on-the-go eating and sustainability, creating a cumulative effect, as McDonald’s are quietly proving.

Although it’s a global concern, McDonald’s thinks sustainably. McDonald’s has provided waste separation facilities in its restaurants for more than three years to maximise the amount of waste its branches recycle, with the aim of zero waste to landfill by 2020. Its lorries run on biofuel (half of which comes from their own waste cooking oil) and they’re constantly evolving their packaging to include more recycled, recyclable and sustainable material, just proving that sustainability and convenience can go hand in hand – and span far more than just packaging.

mcdonalds Recovered

High Street coffee chains are taking action, with Starbucks and Costa not only encouraging the use of reusable cups but encouraging customers to return their single use cups to any branch of any chain for proper disposal. But aside from this example, few FTG retailers are making it easy for consumers to properly dispose of their waste, and it could be something that can be remedied relatively easily.

Simon Gore, Group Strategy Director for Sun Branding Solutions argues that there is an appetite from consumers for all FTG retailers to follow the McDonalds, Costa, Starbucks model encouraging the recycling of all branded packaging and separating it.

Not only is this a responsible action but would also promote brand loyalty, transparency and potentially increase sales through recycling footfall.

Simon Gore, Group Strategy Director at Sun Branding Solutions

However, Starbucks doesn’t always get it right. The US brand came under fire for selling flavoured paper straws in its American and Canadian stores, which were wrapped in single use plastic. And while the product was a limited run – apparently packaged for hygiene reasons – the social media backlash it caused is sure to do some short-term damage to the brands environmentally-friendly credentials.

Online retailing, as a convenient alternative, also poses major issues from a sustainability point of view. Amazon regularly hits the headlines for delivering tiny items in oversized packaging – great for packaging consolidation, not great for your environmental credentials – but if you think ‘last mile first’ when planning your product, logistics and brand proposition, it’s a problem that can easily be overcome.

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