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Just 23% of citizens are aware of environmental issues and act accordingly

Most people’s behaviour is notably “non-circular”: the Circular Index of the average citizen – calculated by Creafutur through an analysis of behaviours and attitudes towards sustainability – is less than 50%

Citizens who are aware of environmental issues and act accordingly make up just 23% of the population, according to a new report entitled Citizens and the Circular Economy, which was written by the Creafutur Foundation and promoted by ESADE and the Catalan Government.

The report was co-authored by 14 public and private institutions – ACCIÓ, the Catalan Department of Territory and Sustainability, the Catalan Waste Agency (ARC), Banc Sabadell, Barcelona de Serveis Municipals (B:SM), the Barcelona Provincial Council, Endesa, Gallina Blanca–GBfoods, Holaluz, ISP, Mango, Naturgy, Puig and Veritas – and based on 2,534 interviews (1,502 in Spain and 1,032 in Scotland) with individuals between the ages of 18 and 65 years.

The study had two objectives: 1) to analyse the behaviours, attitudes and perceptions of Spanish citizens in relation to sustainability and the adoption of circular-economy practices (such as reuse, repair, recycling, and consumption of remanufactured products), and 2) to identify good practices at the local and international levels, with an eye to accelerating the implementation of a circular economy. In pursuit of this second goal, the Creafutur researchers compiled a list of private initiatives that have set an example to follow in the implementation of circular business models, interviewed experts in various areas of the circular-economy field, and travelled to Scotland to interview representatives of public and private institutions that are leading the transition towards a circular economy.

The circular economy concept has emerged in response to the need to transform the prevailing economic model in industry and commerce: the linear economy. The classic system – natural resource extraction, transformation, manufacturing, sale and disposal of consumed products – is clearly unsustainable. The transition from a linear system to a circular one requires the involvement of three groups:

- The public administration, which for the past several years has been committed to incentivising the development of new circular systems at all levels (local, regional, national and European).

- Companies, which in a growing range of sectors are trying to transform their business models to prevent negative environmental impacts.

- Citizens, who as consumers play a key role in determining which business models succeed and in reorienting the product supply through their consumption behaviours and their attitudes towards sustainability.

Citizen profiles

The following citizen profiles were identified on the basis of people’s self-reported behaviours and attitudes in relation to sustainability and the circular economy:


  • People in this segment consider themselves highly aware of the need to protect the environment and well informed about issues related to sustainability.
  • They are the people who recycle the most and who sort their waste into the largest number of categories.
  • They are the people who are most likely to repair products, and they shop second-hand in the largest number of product categories.
  • They strongly agree with all measures to encourage more sustainable behaviours.
  • They are pessimistic about how environmental conditions will evolve in the future.


  • This is the segment with the highest percentage of young people (ages 18-29 years and 30-44 years) and residents of urban or semi-urban areas.
  • These people do not have a consistent attitude regarding sustainability issues.
  • They have the most favourable views of reused, repaired, remanufactured and recycled products. They occasionally have doubts about recycling.
  • This is the segment most concerned about the sustainability of packaging, although they prefer attractive packaging and have the highest rates of online shopping.
  • This segment is the most optimistic about the evolution of environmental conditions in the coming years.


  • This segment has the highest proportion of retirees, unemployed people, and people over 45 years of age.
  • They use collective transport less frequently than other segments.
  • Their sustainable habits are based on recycling: they have internalised the practice of recycling (this segment is in second place in terms of the number of waste categories sorted).
  • They largely blame environmental problems on the government, the European Union and corporations, in equal measure.
  • They don’t shop online, their purchases are driven by sales, and they generally show little interest in fair-trade or organic products.


  • This segment includes a significant percentage of young people between the ages of 18 and 29 years.
  • This segment is the least aware about environmental protection and exhibits the lowest level of responsibility for environmental problems.
  • These people are the least likely to recycle, repair or buy second-hand products.
  • They are not interested in buying sustainable, local, fair-trade or seasonal products.
  • Regardless of product category, this segment exhibits the least sustainable behaviour in terms of shopping habits.

The Unconcerned are the largest population segment, while 2 of every 10 citizens belong to the Aware segment (the polar opposite of the Unconcerned in terms of commitment to sustainability).

Circular Index

Creafutur developed the Circular Index (CI) as a means of measuring citizens’ degree of “circularity”. The index is based on an analysis of multiple variables included in the questionnaire that indicate “circular” behaviours or a degree of awareness regarding sustainability issues.

According to this index, Spanish citizens, like their Scottish counterparts, still have much room to improve in terms of “circular” behaviour, since both groups have an overall CI of less than 50%. The Aware and Traditional segments have the highest CI; the Unconcerned segment, meanwhile, has a very low CI (32.8%) and little prospect of improving. By age bracket, citizens between the ages of 45 and 55 years have the highest CI (47.5%), while the youngest sector of the population (ages 18-29 years) has the lowest CI (40.8%).

Spanish citizens: dishonest about recycling

Although Spain has one of Europe’s lowest household recycling rates, the Spaniards interviewed for this study claimed to contribute positively to these statistics. Indeed, a majority (65.6%) of the Spanish survey respondents claimed to sort their household waste. The Aware and Traditional segments were the most likely to claim that they recycle (92.9% and 87.7%, respectively), whereas just 25.3% of the Unconcerned segment said they recycled.

When asked about their reasons for not recycling (or for not sorting their waste into more categories), the distance between the home and the nearest recycling bin was the most frequently cited deterrent (mentioned by 36.5% of respondents), despite the fact that there is a recycling bin every 100 metres in Spain, according to Ecoembes. Lack of information about recycling (34.3%) and insufficient space at home (22.4%) were also frequently cited reasons for not recycling.