British consumers 'angry' at retailers' language choices over plastic waste

Consumers are angry at the way retailers talk about plastic waste, new research has found.

A study by the University of Sheffield’s English department, reportedly the first to assess the effect of language used by retailers, observed that manufacturers and local councils can influence the public’s thoughts and behaviour towards plastics reuse and recycling.

The team collected linguistic data to see clearly how people talk about plastics in their everyday lives and how different language choices can affect behaviour.

After analysing over 4.5 million words used in advertising, packaging, local council guidance, consumer language on social media and running focus groups with members of the British public, the researchers found that retailers, manufacturers and local councils often use language that doesn’t land well with consumers.

Finding that British consumers are angry at the retail industry for producing plastic waste and frustrated with current reuse and recycling systems, the study also found that supermarkets and manufacturers use language which frames themselves as helping and supporting customers to make pro-environmental choices.

However, findings from the research show that this isn’t how consumers see the relationship.

“Our research highlights an uncomfortable relationship between retailers and individuals due to language choices that aren't landing well with consumers,” said research lead Joanne Gavins, chair in English language and literature at the University of Sheffield. “Many supermarkets use words such as ‘helping’, ‘supporting’ and ‘providing’ in their communications, but these sentiments are not felt by the general public, causing a detachment between brands and consumers.”

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