Digital consumer trends could transform resource efficiency models

Advances in digital technology are changing how and what we consume, which could have a huge impact on business models, packaging and waste and recycling, according to the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) 2016/17 Presidential Report.

Digital consumer trends could transform resource efficiency modelsThe report, ‘Digital technology and consumer trends: Future scenarios for waste and resource management’, says that these trends will influence the types and volumes of waste that the public and private sector has to plan for, and will present new opportunities to improve resource efficiency, particularly in the packaging and grocery sectors.

However, it also warns that those opportunities will only be realised through a ‘more robust’ approach to waste and resource flow data, smart and evidence-based policymaking and ‘collective responsibility’ across the supply chain.

‘The perfect conditions to shift attitudes to shopping, cooking and packaging’

Consumer buying behaviour and expectations, the report suggests, are changing as technological and digital innovation means that shoppers can purchase items in more convenient and time-efficient ways.

Research for the report, which was authored by consultant John Twitchen, found that consumers in the UK are much more favourable to online shopping compared to many other countries around the world, particularly with online grocery services, which the report says are on the rise, with new entrants in the marketplace driving innovation and competition, particularly on the delivery front. Consumer research on online shopping habits carried out for the report found that 68 per cent of respondents favour home delivery.

The Internet of Things, the concept of devices talking to each other, and
us, to spread data and increase their functionality, is also having a profound effect on the way we buy things, with smart fridges letting you see inside your refrigerator while you shop to stop you overbuying and Amazon’s new Dash button to allow consumers to order specific everyday items literally at the touch of a button.

Report author Twitchen commented: “Britain is one of the most online nations when it comes to shopping, and increasing numbers utilising home delivery. Add into the mix new entrants into the grocery home delivery market and an Internet of Things that is picking up the pace, and we have the perfect conditions to shift attitudes to shopping, cooking and packaging – and how the leftovers are collected and used. It’s a really exciting time.”

Appetite for packaging-related trials

As a consequence of the proliferation of digital technology as a means of consumption, the report suggests that the retailers and brands that are both enabling and responding to these trends are developing a more ‘personal’ relationship with their customers and there are signs of a shift in responsibility for, and influence on, wastes and resources up the product supply chain.

Though data provided by Valpak for the report shows that these new trends and disruptive consumption models are not yet translating into significant changes in packaging design and waste, the scenarios examined by retail and design experts for the report highlight the potential for radical change in the future, for example as the traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ approach is replaced by ‘dark stores’ dedicated to servicing ‘click & collect’ and home delivery customers.

The consumer survey carried out for the report also found that around 80 per cent would be interested in taking part in packaging-related trials, including returnables, refillables and the collection of recyclables at the point of delivery. CIWM suggests that this suggests a willingness by consumers to engage with sustainability initiatives in this sphere.

We need to be thinking about a different future

In the most recent issue of Resource, we took an in-depth look at how smart cities and the increasing use of the Internet of Things and other smart technology could affect the waste industry. Speaking to Resource, Sam Reeve, CEO of consultancy Resource Futures, said that the Internet of Things was a “game changer” explaining: “At the moment, all the data we have is point-of-sale or point-of-use, and then everything falls into a black hole. [The Internet of Things brings] understanding of how things are being used, what options that opens up for picking them up, and whether they can be reprocessed or reused. It’s not just about recycling, it’s about waste prevention and minimisation.”

CIWM’s 2016/17 President, Professor Margaret Bates, runner-up in this year’s Resource Hot 100, says that the trends identified in the report mean that the waste and resources industry must start to think about how it will utilise data from more digital pathways: “We haven’t reached a tipping point yet but we need to be thinking about a different future. Over the next 30 years, what we consume, how we consume it – both where and when – and what resources are used and wasted will continue to change.

“This will influence the types and volumes of waste for which our sector has to plan and present new opportunities to improve resource efficiency. The report suggest[s] that these opportunities will only be fully realised, however, if we have better data to inform planning and evidence-based policymaking, and more ‘collective responsibility’ across the supply chain.”

Resource’s feature on how smart cities are changing the way we approach and deal with waste and resources can be read on our site, and the full CIWM report on ‘Digital technology and consumer trends’ can be found on the organisation’s website.

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