Surprising number of people in the UK never recycle

As part of its Environmental Innovations series, exploring how British businesses and consumers are becoming more environmentally friendly, innovation specialist MPA has explored the statistics behind the British public’s perceptions of a plastic-free society.

Research conducted by MPA found that more than four in five (83%) British people support the plastic straw ban, the government initiative that will see plastic straws, drinks stirrers and cotton buds prohibited in England from April 2020.

A similar level (88%) say that they always make an effort to recycle, although 60% of respondents admit they need help to reduce the amount of plastic that they use. More than 3%, the equivalent of two million UK adults, admit to never recycling any plastic.

The top five most common personal efforts to reduce packaging include:

  1. Trying to re-use disposable items (e.g. plastic bags) – 67%
  2. Making an effort to buy fewer goods with packaging that cannot be recycled – 32%
  3. Making an effort to buy more products made from recycled materials – 24%
  4. Trying to avoid supermarkets and shops that do not use recyclable packaging – 8%
  5. Paying extra for goods that with 100% recyclable packaging – 6%

 Although the public were overwhelmingly in favour of the changes and are seemingly making an effort to reduce plastic waste, one in six (17%) don’t think the plastic pledge will make a difference to the level of waste produced. A further one in ten (9%) believe there is no difference in plastic or paper bags in the context of the environment.

The knock-on effect of more consumers making a conscious decision to use more sustainable packaging also has implications for businesses – particularly ones that offer customers sustainable options.

Just 26% of Brits wouldn’t pay more for products that are good for the environment, although a similar number (28%) say they do take into consideration whether or not a product is labelled as environmentally friendly before making a purchase.

However, this isn’t the case for all consumer goods, with half of Brits admitting they would not wear eco-clothing that can be worn without the need for washing.

Stuart Bentley, delivery manager at MPA, said: “Packaging is a huge industry in the UK, accounting for annual sales of around £11 billion, and our research has found that consumers are shunning single use plastics and unsustainable packaging in a bid to reduce their carbon footprint.

“Although there is some way to go before we become a completely plastic-free society, government schemes such as the plastic straw ban and its investment into making the country a global leader in sustainable packaging will definitely play its part.

“Arguably, the packaging industry is the sector which has had the biggest overhaul in recent years, but several companies are continuing to innovate, and as a result, are playing a leading role in offering consumers the chance to make more sustainable choices.”

Sustainable packaging: how the UK is becoming a world leader

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