How waste-based end-goods are perceived?

Firms proactively develop new sustainable supply chain practices and strategies. At the same time, research on supply chain sustainability has reached a point where new perspectives are needed to challenge and expand existing models.

In part, the circular economy leverages recycling and remanufacturing existing products. If products are not feasibly recyclable, they are classified as waste. This part of Res Urbis project explores how consumers respond to products made from regenerated bio-waste.

Food waste is believed to be the primary source of bio-waste. Thus, biodegradable waste, or bio-waste, from urban areas is being used to produce a bio-based material to replace plastic —this is relevant to the sustainable development of a circular economy (CE), which requires the innovative use of waste materials. Understanding consumer perception to such materials, and the drivers influencing their uptake, is key to their viability.

However, there are many barriers to full utilization of bio-waste as a resource. In order to make disposition activities feasible for a company, they have to be profitable and economically sustainable.

Furthermore, the customers’ perception and acceptance of the new waste-generated PHA material is key for its success. Despite its relevance, strategies and processes aimed toward increasing sustainability in the supply chain often neglect the consumers’ acceptance and perceptions of the products derived from circular business processes in, and rather disproportionately focus on the chemical and engineering technical aspects, or on supply-side problems, such as for instance analyses on end-of-life, end-of-use, and the organization of efficient Closed Loop Supply Chain (CLSC) systems As a consequence, consumer-facing issues such as the marketing of recovered products, their acceptance by consumers, the existence of new markets for these products and how firms can promote these markets, what strategies are best suited for this purpose, and what consumer segment should be targeted, all are severely under-represented in the literature and need to be better explored. Indeed, there has been little work on literature on the demand side of CLSCs addressing the role of consumers.

Thus our research contributes to research and practice by identifying and testing factors that might affect consumer acceptance of products derived from bio-waste. Its importance stems from the fact that if consumer markets are not fully understood, forces related to them become barriers, no matter how well the operational system is designed.

It is the consumer that will eventually determine the success of circular economy practices. Thus, it is crucial for the implementation of a circular economy model to understand consumers’ willingness to buy products from waste and to switch, at least in part, from using new products to using bio-waste-derived products.

In Res Urbis project we studied specific questionnaires aimed at verifying the consumer attitude toward products made of bioplastic originated from organic waste. A specific focus was dedicated to the production of chairs made of bioplastic in different countries (UK, Spain, Poland, Italy, Germany, Denmark, USA).

In detail different experimental studies were carried out to also measure the possible acceptance of consumers for waste derived products by means of a specific survey at understanding consumers’ intentions to purchase, pay for, and switch to bio-based products. Then, the general attitude towards biobased processes was considered and finally the consumers acceptance was verified.

Interesting results from those countries gave “their feeling and perception with other products”, such as eyeglasses, toys, shopping bags, bin bags, bottles, lamps, garden gravel, computer case and fisher plugs are reported in detail in papers published.

Bin bags gave good results representing an interesting option of the “closing the loop” approach since food waste is used to produce bin bags used to contain food waste. This study shows the market is potentially ready for these products and that investing in supply-chain reconfiguration can be viable. In sum, at this stage of research these findings illustrate that consumers are willing to participate in similar CE initiatives, and demonstrate to companies that PHA-based bioplastics created from urban bio-waste can lead to lower costs and more sustainable closed-loop systems.

(Contribution by Ivan Russo, UNIVR)