Survey reveals Britain still addicted to plastic

The British public has not changed its behaviour towards single-use plastic despite growing awareness of the problem, according to a YouGov survey released today (17 April).

Commissioned by water filter manufacturer BRITA and environmental charity Keep Britain Tidy, the survey asked over 2,000 people about their attitudes and actions around single-use plastics in the wake of Blue Planet II, which seemed to precipitate a sea-change in both policy on and perceptions of disposable plastics.

Survey reveals Britain still addicted to plastic
The show was 2017’s most watched programme, and its scenes of plastic packaging found in remote parts of the world’s oceans garnered huge social media engagement; following the final episode internet searches for conservation charities and plastic recycling surged. The show has also seemingly been referenced at the launch of nearly every new environmental policy since then. The government has taken a much stronger approach to plastics in recent months, with its 25 Year Environment Plan focusing on the ‘scourge’ of single-use plastics, and consultations upcoming on a potential ‘plastic tax’ and a bottle deposit return scheme.

However, YouGov’s new survey appears to show that while awareness may be greater now than it ever was, people have not modified their actions to follow suit. Only 17 per cent of respondents were ‘strongly committed’ to finding an alternative to bottled water. Although 55 per cent of people own a reusable bottle, 51 per cent of these still purchase bottled water regularly; 23 per cent claim reusable bottles are inconvenient or ‘too heavy’ to use out and about.

The survey draws attention the lack of options at commuter hubs like service stations and airports, with 63 per cent of people buying bottled water when travelling long distances by car. Water fountains offer a potential solution to this problem: in January, Mayor Sadiq Khan launched plans for a network of water fountains and bottle refill points across London, and the Refill project, set up in Bristol but now operating in 13 cities, offers an app showing locations where water is freely available to the public.

However, the YouGov survey reveals that 59 per cent of people are still wary of using water fountains due to cleanliness, and 69 per cent are uncomfortable asking for a glass of water or a bottle refill in a shop or cafe without first purchasing something. 73 per cent say that they would be more likely to use a reusable bottle if water could be accessed without having to ask staff.

Read more: Is embarrassment over tap water contributing to plastic bottle waste?

Clearly, more needs to be done to reduce these perceived or actual barriers to accessing free tap water. The report makes a number of recommendations to this effect, suggesting that all public buildings should be involved in refill schemes and that communication and education around water fountains, their availability and safety, should be improved.

Allison Ogden-Newton, Chief Executive of Keep Britain Tidy, commented: “There has been encouraging progress in the past year to address litter levels from single-use plastic, but this report demonstrates that we are not there yet.

“Too many people still find it challenging to fill up on the go, while many more are still embarrassed to ask for tap, worried about the safety of water fountains, or just unwilling to go the extra mile and carry around a reusable bottle. We’ve simply got to get to a situation where topping up in glass or refillable bottle is the norm.”

The full report can be downloaded on the Keep Britain Tidy website.

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