Triggering sustainable plastics consumption behavior: Identifying consumer profiles across Europe and designing strategies to engage them

Elsevier, Sustainable Production and Consumption, Volume 36, March 2023
van Oosterhout L., Dijkstra H., Borst D., Duijndam S., Rehdanz K., van Beukering P.

The overproduction and consumption of plastics has led to a global challenge of plastic pollution and waste. Citizens in particular have an important role to play as they interact with plastics constantly in their daily lives as consumers, but different plastics consumer profiles are hardly understood, resulting in a lack of tailored and effective engagement strategies. This study identifies and analyzes sustainable plastics consumer profiles based on behavioral and psychological characteristics obtained through a large-scale survey deployed among 7600 respondents in eight European countries. The responses were subjected to regression modelling and a two-step cluster analysis. This study found personal responsibility and self-proclaimed knowledge to be critical variables affecting all stages of sustainable plastics consumption behavior (i.e. purchasing, using and disposing), as well as a factor differentiating consumer profiles. Concern and perceived consequences, on the other hand, are not found to be strong predictors of sustainable plastics consumption behavior. Four distinct social groups are identified and labeled as “Waste Warriors”, “Waste Conscious”, “Waste Moderate” and “Waste Laggards”. The results of the cluster analysis confirm that the citizen profiles are heterogeneous with large differences in behavior, attitudes, and perceptions related to plastics, indicating a need for differentiated engagement strategies. The results of this study enrich the literature on plastics sustainable consumption behavior and confirm the predicting power of various socio-demographic and psychological factors. In addition, the knowledge of the relative size, characteristics and unique needs of specific social groups related to plastics behavior are important for various stakeholders and key to develop suitable and effective marketing and policy plans to combat plastic pollution at a European scale.