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.
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:
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).
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.
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