• A lack of programmes and services is the top barrier to greater recycling uptake, a global sustainability survey shows.
  • Globally, 64% of people feel personally responsible for acting on climate change.
  • But many said recycling was either inconvenient, or they lacked trust in recycling programmes.
  • People around the world think choosing products with reusable packaging is the most adoptable zero-waste measure.

More than three-quarters of people around the world think recycling is important, but key barriers must be overcome to encourage them to act, according to a new sustainability study.

A joint survey by the World Economic Forum, SAP and Qualtrics questioned people in different parts of the world about their attitudes to climate change and sustainability.

Importance of recycling
Importance of recycling
Image: Qualtrics

In nearly all regions, more than four of every five people questioned considered it extremely or very important to personally recycle where possible; the exception was East Asia & the Pacific, where support for this sentiment fell to less than three in every four people.

Top barriers to recycling.
Top barriers to recycling.
Image: SAP Qualtrics

In developed regions like North America and Western Europe, a proportionately high number of respondents said recycling was either inconvenient, or they lacked trust in recycling programmes.

While in regions like the Middle East & North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America & the Caribbean, a key barrier was not knowing how to participate in recycling programmes.

What would make people recycle more?

Researchers surveyed more than 11,500 respondents across 28 countries in eight regions of the world, made up of 70% general consumers and 30% corporate representatives.


Researchers surveyed more than 11,500 respondents across 28 countries in eight regions of the world, made up of 70% general consumers and 30% corporate representatives.

Changes to environmentally friendly behaviors
Changes to environmentally friendly behaviours
Image: SAP Qualtrics

The findings showed that a number of measures could encourage people to change their buying decisions and switch to products with more sustainable packaging.

The top driver for seeking out goods with reusable packaging was to reduce the harmful effect of disposable waste on the environment, although North America was below the rest of the world here, with less than a third of respondents agreeing.

More people would seek out reusable packaging if it were less expensive. This attitude peaked at 32% in Western Europe, compared to South Asia and East Asia & the Pacific where just 14%, respectively, supported this view.

Most adoptable zero-waste practices.
Most adoptable zero-waste practices.
Image: SAP Qualtrics


Well over half of respondents - and much more in some regions - said choosing new products with reusable packaging was the most adoptable zero-waste practice. Around half thought avoiding products that are hard to recycle would reduce waste.

Extending the lifecycle of goods by repairing them when worn or broken saw strong support in regions like North America and South Asia. For reducing consumption to ease waste, North America and East Asia & the Pacific recorded the highest support (38%, respectively) compared with just 23% in Sub-Saharan Africa.