Millennials and the Future of Our Environment

September 2022

11 min

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As the world continues to feel the effects of climate change, many have reevaluated their daily habits. Factors like spending behaviors, energy consumption and waste management all have a significant impact on the state of the environment. Many of these behaviors and attitudes toward sustainability are affected by generational influences. So, which generation cares most about the environment?

Millennials — those born between 1981 and 1996 — are the largest living generation in America. Because of their size, their spending habits and attitudes toward the environment shape the economy. Compared to other generations, the millennial generation displays different outlooks on sustainability, climate change action and product consumption.

Read on for more information about millennials and why millennials care more about the environment than previous generations.

Millennial's Impact on the Environment

Millennials grew up in significantly different conditions than previous generations. As the first generation to grow up in the new millennium, they witnessed the rapid growth of technology. From the progression of computer systems to the rise of devices like iPods and iPhones, millennials have had constant connections to the internet. They've also witnessed the growing impacts of climate change, such as frequent natural disasters, rising sea levels and higher temperatures.

All of these societal changes have impacted millennials' attitudes toward the environment and product consumption. Many place a stronger focus on sustainability, choosing eco-friendly brands and products. They also show interest in recycling. These habits affect both the larger economy and the waste management industry.

Here's a closer look at this generation's common habits and how they affect the economy and environment:

Purchasing Decisions

Millennials and sustainability go hand in hand, especially when it comes to their shopping habits. Many millennials use an environmentally conscious approach to purchases . Often, these greener choices can be more expensive, but many millennials are willing to pay extra if there is a benefit for the environment. A majority believe it's important for companies to help society rather than just make a profit.

Their collective concern for the environment and sustainability has prompted buying habits like:

  • Buying more secondhand clothing
  • Using reusable bags instead of plastic
  • Choosing ecotourism vacations
  • Looking for locally sourced products

Because millennials have such a large population, buying decisions like these affect the entire economy. As more millennials enter the workforce, their disposable income will become the most influential. Their opinions will impact brand perception, important societal trends and product success. Companies and service providers will likely shift toward more sustainable practices to keep up with the changing consumer landscape.

Distrusting Greenwashing

Sustainability's rise in popularity has prompted many companies to shift to more eco-friendly strategies. However, many businesses promote sustainable practices or products without actually following through. In a practice known as “greenwashing,” these companies claim to use sustainable practices to attract more customers. The strategy capitalizes on the growing efforts for green buying practices.

For instance, a company might advertise its products as natural or free of chemicals but still use harmful environmental practices to create them. Alternatively, they might exaggerate environmental awareness, such as attending a recycling event, to distract from their hazardous practices.

Millennials' use of online devices has helped them spot deceptive strategies like greenwashing. They can instantly research a company's production practices or discuss behaviors on various social media platforms. Companies that use greenwashing techniques could be sworn off by millennials and find it challenging to reestablish themselves on the market.

The influx of greenwashing causes this generation to ask for full disclosures on environmental practices. Businesses should be prepared to discuss their production choices in detail, from raw materials to shipping containers, to be fully transparent with consumers.

Views on Recycling

The growing concern over climate change has given millennials an increased awareness of recycling. Recycling is the process of converting waste into reusable material and is a crucial aspect of mitigating the impacts of climate change. Extending product life spans can reduce waste and contribute to a circular economy.

As of 2019, 85% of millennials and Gen Z recycle. However, many face challenges when trying to do so, such as lack of access to recycling centers or distrust of the industry. Some believe that all products put in recycling end up with the rest of the disposable waste in landfills. Many share the view that the responsibility of sustainability falls on corporations, not individuals.

The waste management industry has shifted to meet these new expectations. For example, increases in online shopping have initiated a change in packaging. With so many shipments traveling worldwide, a sustainable approach must be taken. Instead of wrapping products in single-use plastic, distributors could use recycled materials for shipments. An even better approach is to use as little packaging as possible.

Overall, technology, social media and an increased interest in sustainability affect millennial buying decisions. These trends affect the comprehensive economy and the recycling industry, so it may come as no surprise that millennials recycle more than other age groups.

The Recycling Industry's Role in Sustainability

Despite millennials' focus on sustainability, global threats of climate change remain.

Nearly 300 million tons of plastic are produced each year, posing a dangerous threat to our environment. A large portion of the plastic doesn't get recycled and ends up in landfills or natural habitats. Over time, plastics break up into tinier pieces known as microplastics. These fragments are challenging to detect due to their small size. Animals and humans often consume them by accident, causing health issues.

Plastic production and greenhouse gas concentrations play major roles in climate change. As the threat continues to grow, millennials and Gen Z have taken strong stances on sustainability and other green practices. Strategies like recycling can help extend product life spans and reduce the global production of plastic.

The waste management and recycling industries also play a large role in the fight to manage climate change. These sectors are responsible for collecting, transporting, processing and disposing of waste products worldwide. As recycling becomes more crucial, the industry's role in society will become more prominent.

Leaders in the field have adopted new measures, such as artificial intelligence (AI) technology implementation, to increase efficiency and enhance sorting processes. These industries will likely have to find new ways to safely dispose of products. In turn, the waste management and recycling market is projected to grow rapidly.

Can the Recycling Industry Help Millennials Improve Sustainability?

As the largest generational sector, millennials can have a massive impact on attitudes and behaviors about environmental activism. The waste management and recycling industries help expand access to recycling and other safe disposal processes. A collaboration between both groups could help improve sustainability efforts worldwide.

The recycling industry could use a variety of strategies to help millennials achieve sustainability goals. By giving the generation actionable ways to work toward their green values, they're more likely to engage in healthy habits like recycling.

For example, the recycling industry could help by:

  • Increasing convenience: When it's simple to recycle products, millennials and other generations are more likely to participate. City officials can work together with the recycling industry to make recycling a simple and convenient process. Creating an accessible recycling program can reduce waste and encourage all generations to participate. Local areas can set up recycling centers near other high-traffic areas to make it easier to drop off recycling loads.
  • Raising engagement: A clear collaboration between the government and the waste industry can provide consumers with a clear message on sustainability. Consistent messaging can resolve misunderstandings or hesitancy surrounding recycling. With nearly seven in 10 Americans using social media daily, important sustainability messages can be viewed by people worldwide. Waste management officials and other leaders can work together to prepare informative and helpful messages about sustainability involvement. Users can learn how to help and become more engaged in climate change efforts.
  • Educating about the circular economy: Circular economic structures focus on keeping products in circulation rather than only using them once before disposal. The waste industry can work with packaging producers to create sustainable packaging. The recycling industry can help educate consumers on its importance. As more governments adopt a circular economic structure, both millennials and the recycling industry can participate.

Overall, the recycling industry can help millennials achieve various sustainability goals. A collaboration between the two parties could drive significant sustainability efforts.

What Does the Future of Our Environment Look Like?

From rising sea levels to rapidly increasing temperatures, the global climate continues to display worsening tendencies. The health and safety of our futures depend on the actions we take now. While it's impossible to completely reverse the effects of climate change, the world can still take meaningful steps to mitigate its future impacts.

As the fight against climate change continues, some governments and industry leaders are looking to shift towards a circular economy. This economic model keeps products and materials in circulation for as long as possible.

The circular economy is in contrast to a linear economy, which follows a progression like:

  1. A product is created
  2. The product gets used
  3. The product is disposed

In contrast, the circular economy reuses items until they can no longer be used. The system also focuses on durable, sustainable materials that promote the longevity of materials. Durable components allow products to stay in circulation longer.

The ultimate aim of circular economies is to reduce waste. The recycling of products combined with the use of eco-friendly materials can lessen harmful environmental impacts. Overall, it concentrates on regeneration instead of continuous extraction. As more governments and societies adopt this structure, millennials play an important role in its implementation.

Millennials place more focus on sustainability than previous generations, but the limitations of plastic production and other harmful practices still exist. Millennial shopping trends will continue to impact product creation, packing and distribution. In response, businesses try to become greener.

If millennials use their influence for good, they can help promote and carry out a circular economy. Here are three ways millennials can help create a circular economy:

  • Consume less: One of the best ways to move toward a circular economy is by consuming less. Many people use their disposable incomes on unnecessary items that add to global waste production. For instance, purchasing endless amounts of new clothing only adds to the buildup of products worldwide. Millennials could help further the trend of buying less and only using what they need. These techniques help with energy consumption and reduce waste buildup.
  • Use sustainable products: Millennials can continue to choose sustainable products when making purchases. Selecting items that can be recycled or have already been recycled can further a circular economy. Buying sustainably can also impact what millennials eat. Supporting local farms and eating responsibly grown food are also beneficial.
  • Promote systemic change: The most significant changes need to occur on a larger scale. Governments and other leaders need to take the proper steps toward a circular economy by passing legislation. Green millennials can help by spreading awareness about circular economies, voting for environmentally conscious candidates and educating others on the benefits of a circular economy.

While millennials can help the world work toward sustainability goals, the fight for a better environment will take help from all generations.

Contact Paradigm Software, L.L.C.™ Today

Millennials, also known as generation green, play a significant role in consumer trends. This group, along with Gen Z, can lead the charge to implement eco-friendly initiatives that help mitigate climate change and protect future generations. The recycling industry needs to adopt new technologies to keep up with changing demands and support an increase in green efforts.

At Paradigm Software, L.L.C. , we understand the importance of high-quality software for the recycling industry. Our comprehensive software solution can help your company fulfill its individual needs. Our software includes thousands of configuration settings, instant automated reporting, disaster recovery and more to make managing your business as simple and effective as possible.

You can streamline many aspects of your waste management facility with our high-quality software. To get started, contact us today and our team will be in touch.


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