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A new study by the top four global custom market research firm, Synovate, on ‘green’ behaviour shows that consumers in the UAE are among the top purchasers of ecological and organic products, but rank near the bottom when it comes to recycling household waste. The survey also found women and older consumers are more environmentally conscious.

Synovate, as part of its ongoing Global Trends Study, interviewed 22,000 people across 28 countries: Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Italy, India, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Serbia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, UAE, UK and USA. Respondents were asked about their recycling habits, purchase of ecological products and purchase of organic foods, as well as their general beliefs on life, in order to also determine if there was a correlation between those beliefs and green behaviour.

Women in the UAE ranked higher than men across all green behaviour categories, while people aged 56 and 65 years ranked highest in recycling and buying ecological products. Those in the 16-25 age group scored lowest across those latter two categories but were just as likely to purchase organic foods as their older counterparts.

“We asked respondents to show agreement and disagreement with several topics related with basic needs and attitudes that anyone in the world would have in different life situations. We used these results to conduct a global segmentation framed under our Censydiam research model,” said Tamer El Naggar, Synovate CEO for the Middle East and North Africa. “Those who showed the highest levels of agreement with statements related to concern about the future or the importance of family were actually the ones purchasing fewer ecological and organic products, and recycling less. This suggests green behaviour in many people may be borne from other convictions that are not related to the health and well-being of their family and the planet.

“For example, our segmentation demonstrates that those who recycle more are also more group-oriented, while people who consume more organic products are more likely to be more individualistic,” El Naggar added.

Only 24% of respondents in the UAE recycled waste at home in the preceding, followed by those in Indonesia, Russia and Egypt, where less than 15% of respondents said they had recycled in the past week. At the other end of the scale, consumers in Canada (88%), South Korea (86%) and Spain (84%) were most likely to have recycled waste at home during the preceding week, closely followed by those in Belgium (82%), Italy and the UK (81% each).

With a large expat community, many residents come to the UAE from countries where recycling is already part of everyday life, commented Susan Madeley, Synovate’s managing director in the UAE. “The challenge is one of communication to generate awareness of recycling amongst a transient community and to create commitment from homeowners and residents to participate in the local initiatives being launched by both the public and private sectors. Most resident communities in the UAE do not have the household recycling collection that exists in other countries.”

By contrast, for the past few years city governments around Canada have made a huge push towards recycling, said Rob Myers, managing director for Synovate in Canada. “Homes in all major cities are given a blue bin for recycling material, a green bin for biodegradable items such as food, and a black bin for items that don’t fit into the first two categories. Effectively the job of sorting garbage has moved from the dump to the household and Canadians have been trained to recycle.”

Recycling waste at home was more popular with women in the UAE, with 28% overall saying they had done this in the past week, compared to 22% of men.

When it came to purchasing ecological products, however, UAE was in fourth place at 35%, with Denmark, Sweden and South Korea leading the pack (59%, 52% and 42% respectively), while Serbia (8%) and China (9%) were lowest.

“Lack of availability in stores and high prices can make buying organic and eco household products a challenge for consumers,” noted Madeley. “However, there is now a growing range of specialist health and wellness stores, and even online stores, springing up in the UAE for eco-conscious consumers, making these products easier to buy and satisfying both local and expat demand.”

Denmark again led all the countries in organic food purchase (69%), while the next highest respondents were in the UAE, Mexico and Germany (all 35%). Lowest purchasers of organic food were Indonesia (3%) and Japan (10%). Interestingly, younger and older consumers in the UAE were equally likely to have bought such products.

Synovate also found that the three green habits studied did not directly correlate with each other – meaning, if someone did one habit, it did not automatically mean they did the others.

“Correlation of green habits likely has a lot to do with availability,” concluded El Naggar. “As we saw, the UAE is quite good at buying ecological and organic products but could do better at recycling. That’s because they don’t have a well-developed system for collecting recyclables, which helps explain this. So the results don’t necessarily mean that people don’t want to be greener – it may just be that they can’t. Governments across the region could certainly help increase their population’s ability to engage in more green behaviour, whether by promoting recycling programmes, or by offering incentives to producers of ecological and organic products.”

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