Over the last decades, rising consumption around the globe has increased pressure on the environment, climate change and created greater competition for resources. The demand for resources makes our industry and society also dependent on imports and vulnerable to high prices and market volatility. Several EU policies aim to address these challenges and promote a more sustainable, resource-efficient and circular economy, in particular via the implementation of the EU Circular Economy Action Plan.
Integrating the consumer perspective into the circular economy is key. This is linked to elements such as the optimal lifetime and durability of products and the easy repair, upgrade, disassemble and recycling of products. It is also linked to giving products a second life by selling them in the second hand market. Increasing the utilisation rate of products can also be achieved through renting/leasing models. It is also related to the provision of clear, credible and relevant information to consumers to allow them to make informed purchasing choices and contribute to this transition. DG Justice and Consumers commissioned an EU wide behavioural study to further look into the consumer angle of this area.
Behavioural Study on Consumers’ Engagement in the Circular Economy
The objective of this study was to provide policy-relevant insights on the consumers' engagement in the circular economy. The study involved several research tasks including literature review in all EU countries as well as third countries, stakeholder interviews, consumer focus groups in 4 EU countries, an online consumer survey in 12 EU countries and an online behavioural experiment in 6 EU countries.
Overall, all strands of research found that consumers were generally willing to engage in circular economy practices. But actual engagement was rather low. While a majority of consumers repair products (64%), a substantial share have not repaired products in the past (36%), and/or have no experience renting/leasing or buying second hand products (~90%).
A reason for this low engagement in circular economy practices could be that consumers lack information regarding product durability and reparability as well as the lack of sufficiently developed markets (e.g. for second hand products, renting, leasing or sharing services etc.).
In the behavioural experiment the provision of such information was found to be highly effective at shifting purchasing decisions towards products with greater durability and reparability. The survey and experiment also found that repair decisions are easily disrupted if arranging repair requires effort.
The findings indicate that there is a large potential to close the gap between consumers’ willingness to engage and their actual engagement. The study makes several policy recommendations to further enhance consumers' engagement in the circular economy.
As a next step, DG Justice and Consumers intends to undertake a new study in 2019/2020 on the fitness of the Consumers' national and EU legal frameworks for the circular economy and this will also assess new consumer measures.