Can you tell something about yourself?
My name is Ruth Mugge. I am a Full Professor in Design for Sustainable Consumer Behaviour at the Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering at the TUDelft in the Netherlands. As a professor, I conduct scientific consumer research and share these insights with my students via education. Specifically, I am interested in investigating consumer responses towards different sustainable solutions. Our aim is to understand how the design of product, service or product-service system can contribute to the adoption of sustainable solutions and can encourage consumers to perform the desired sustainable behaviours. Some examples of research questions that I am working on at the moment are: How to increase consumer adoption of refurbished products? How to motivate consumers to extend the lifetime of their durable products? and How to improve consumer responses to reusable packaging systems? Furthermore, I am involved in the TRANSFORM-CE project, together with my colleagues Athanasios Polyportis and Lise Magnier.
How are you involved with the TRANSFORM-CE project?
Our team is executing scientific research on consumer behaviour for the work packages Material Flow Analysis and Business Uptake. For the work package, Material Flow Analysis, we are investigating under which conditions households are more or less likely to sort and recycle their single-use plastic waste. Based on a literature review, we have distinguished several factors, related to the recycling facility (e.g., distance to recycling area), characteristics of the household (e.g., knowledge of recycling), the municipality’s waste system (e.g., diftar) and the packaging design (e.g., level of package distortion) that will influence the likelihood to recycle single-use plastic waste.
For the work package Business Uptake, we are investigating how consumers respond to products made of recycled plastics. For this work package, we have conducted a literature review and several experiments. These studies have demonstrated that consumers generally have a positive attitude towards products made of recycled plastics because they offer important environmental benefits and can help to express a person’s ‘green’ identity. However in some cases, consumers may perceive products of recycled plastics as potentially having lower performance quality and as more contaminated. We have translated these findings into a set of guidelines that companies can use in order to improve consumers’ evaluation of new products made of recycled plastics.
Which challenges and/or opportunities do you see?
Our research findings suggest that there are good opportunities for marketing products made of recycled plastics because these products provide environmental benefits and consumers are increasingly aware of the environmental challenges that our society faces today. However, the success of products made of recycled plastics strongly depends on how it is marketed and designed. Companies should aim to market products in such a way that the benefits that consumer may perceive are boosted and the risks are lowered. For example, consumers may lack trust in the environmental claims of companies, or may see the environmental benefits as abstract and less relevant for him/herself. Then, marketing products made of recycled content can be seen as greenwashing, which may strongly hinder adoption. By providing details about the environmental impact of the product and the environmental performance of the company in general, trust can be ensured.
What is the call to action to industry?
My call to action to industry is to make more use of recycled plastics as a material for producing new products that are now made from either virgin plastics or other virgin materials, such as wood. It is truly a pity that at the moment only 30% of the plastic waste that was collected, is recycled. Furthermore, half of this recycled plastic is actually exported to countries outside the EU. For Europe, it would be beneficial to lower our dependency on virgin materials and make better use of our recycled plastics instead. If marketed and designed well, products made of recycled plastics can even gain additional environmental benefits and attract consumers.
Further information on TUDelft, their activities and products can be found at https://www.tudelft.nl/en/ide/about-ide/people/mugge-r