Who’s most eager to recycle? It’s Baby Boomers

DS Smith's latest consumer survey shows that Boomers take recycling more seriously than younger generations, but all groups support increased use of sustainable packing materials. The poll also finds America’s shoppers feeling boxed in … but loving it.

Americans are awash in boxes from a pandemic-induced push to online shopping. But how do consumers feel about those boxes? Baby Boomers, the generation that came of age amid the first Earth Day in 1970, are the most motivated to recycle those leftover boxes, according to a nationwide poll by global packaging leader DS Smith. And the majority of consumers (57%) don’t mind the extras, because “you can never have too many boxes” for re-shipping, storage and other purposes.

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Boomers outpaced all other generations in taking responsibility for recycling. But all groups were united when asked about the surplus of boxes from e-commerce spending and the message was clear: They’re not bothered by the extra packages but do want them made of sustainable materials.

Approximately 44% of those surveyed report getting more shopping deliveries during the COVID-19 pandemic, with 15% saying they are “drowning in boxes.”

In an important, pro-environment signal, three-quarters (73%) of those polled say they care if the box is made from sustainable materials.

“As consumers increasingly turn to e-commerce, they don’t want to feel guilty about the packaging that comes along with it,” said Mark Ushpol, managing director of the North America Packaging Division for DS Smith. “They want packaging that is sustainable, and corrugated boxes made from renewable fiber are reusable and recyclable, helping businesses and consumers tackle those challenges and feel good about their choices.”

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Nearly two-thirds (62%) put the responsibility to recycle their boxes on themselves, with the rest saying sustainability falls on the companies that make the products packaged in the boxes (34%) or recycling services in their local communities (33%).

Broken out by generation, Baby Boomers (71%) hold themselves more accountable for responsibly recycling their boxes than others - millennials (60%), Gen Z (59%) and Gen X (58%).

Boomers, at 65%, also say they are unconcerned with the additional packages they’ve received from e-commerce and more likely than younger generations to say you can never have too many boxes lying around. About 28% of all consumers say it’s a constant reminder they are shopping online too much.

Screen Shot 2021-05-17 at 1.00.14 PM.pngDespite the eagerness of many groups to say they recycle, the U.S. lags behind most of the developed world with less than 35% of its overall waste recycled – a rate that has remained static since 2005. And the residential recovery rate for corrugated boxes remains between 30-40% as compared with a 95% commercial recovery rate, indicating there is room for improvement, especially as 89% of consumers report receiving more or the same number of boxes since the pandemic began.

 “As online shopping continues to grow, more deliveries means more cardboard packaging entering the home,” adds Ushpol, “We realize that recycling is increasingly a personal decision for the consumer, so we’re encouraging cardboard recycling at every level because those fibers are reusable, and by doing so, consumers can feel good about taking positive action for their environment.”

DS Smith, in its operations, supports a circular economy that aims to reduce and eliminate waste and advocates for the reuse of materials, including its box-to-box in 14 days model that ensures boxes are collected, recycled and turned into new boxes within two weeks.

In 2020, in partnership with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the company launched its Circular Design Principles, centered around optimizing design for sustainability and waste reduction; and in 2021 it unveiled its Circular Design Metrics, an industry first that allows customers to rate the circularity of their packaging.

The company’s purpose is to “Redefine Packaging for a Changing World,” and as part of its “Now and Next Sustainability Strategy” and commitment to the circular economy, the company by 2030 will use packaging and recycling to replace problem plastics, reduce customer carbon and eliminate consumer packaging waste.

About the survey

The survey was conducted online April 1-5, 2021, among 1,020 Americans who have the same amount or more boxes lying around from online shopping compared to pre-pandemic. The margin of error is plus or minus three percentage points.