Consumer attitudes towards the circular economy

Authors: Aistė Bartkienė, Renata Bikauskaitė, Diana Mincytė, Ieva Šakelaitė

One of the key objectives of the CIRCLE project, specifically within Work Package 4 (WP4), is to investigate consumers’ knowledge and perceptions of the circular economy. In pursuit of this goal, we conducted six preliminary exploratory interviews with Lithuanian consumers. The aim was to gain initial insights into how consumers, particularly those who engage with food and its packaging produced using circular methods, perceive sustainability, circularity, and environmental responsibility.

Consumer perspectives and behaviors play a crucial role in shaping the current industrial economy, including the circular economy. However, scholarly work on consumer attitudes towards the circular economy remains limited, with a predominant focus on technological and business innovations and financial analyses. Our project recognizes and begins to address this gap.

From the interviews, it became evident that consumers are engaging in various circular practices, albeit without explicitly labeling them as such. These practices include waste recycling, with several respondents emphasizing the importance of waste sorting and opting for recyclable packaging. Our respondents were interested in composting food waste and other organic matter but complained that it was not possible without appropriate infrastructure. Additionally, conscious and sustainable consumption was observed among participants. While focusing on food and bioresources, respondents also indicated their anti-consumerist attitudes and minimalist principles: they often spoke about sharing items, reusing children’s clothing and toys, refraining from unnecessary purchases, and making efforts to repair and restore items to extend their usefulness.

The interviewed consumers expressed genuine concerns about environmental issues, and their engagement in circular practices was motivated by factors such as reducing overall consumption, practicality, cost-effectiveness, and the well-being of themselves and their children. While these consumers might not explicitly identify their actions as part of a circular economy, their behaviors align with the core principles of circularity and sustainability.

However, consumers highlighted that a lack of information and infrastructure often hinders their increased involvement in circular practices. For example, they pointed out the absence of food waste collection infrastructure in the city of Vilnius. Moreover, consumers believe that products made from recycled materials or sustainable and eco-friendly sources tend to be more expensive. This price barrier poses a significant challenge for broader adoption of circular practices. Consumers expressed that many prioritize lower prices over sustainable options due to financial constraints.

Moreover, the relevant literature suggests that circular and/or waste reduction-oriented practices are more common among older generations who have experienced scarcity. This observation aligns with insights from one of our older respondents, who expressed concern about wastefulness and the need for sustainable living. They questioned the prevalent consumerist culture of constantly seeking new items.

Overall, our preliminary interviews validated several assumptions. Consumers have limited knowledge about the circular economy and circular business initiatives. However, they do recognize the value of certain forms of circularity in their daily lives, even if they don’t label them as such. Consumers also expressed interest in actively participating in and contributing to the circular economy if suitable infrastructure and incentive systems are established.

We look forward to studying and comparing our findings with those of our project partners and including them in developing best practices and effective circular business initiative models.

Image: Gerd Altmann