Plastic pollution has become a growing concern on a global scale because of the visible and invisible effects it is having on the environment; it is an “unseen danger”. The accumulation of plastic waste is damaging natural habitats, killing marine wildlife and creating adverse changes in the weather. It is important, therefore, to find out what the public have to say about this issue and what changes need to be made to slow down and eventually stop plastic pollution altogether.
What do the public think about plastic pollution?
VPI conducted qualitative research through video interviews with 30 people between the age of 11 to the over 60s to uncover public opinion on this subject. This research uncovered a number of key themes that were raised as concerns by the majority of respondents, as outlined below.
Awareness needs to turn into action
Our market research showed that awareness and concerns have stemmed from media coverage through a multitude of platforms such as David Attenborough’s Blue Planet (BBC: 2001), to turtle videos shared on social media, to adverts on billboards in public spaces, to news coverage on political movements such as Extinction Rebellion. The majority of respondents aired concerns that this growing awareness needs to turn into action.
We found that the majority of interviewees were very aware and worried about the plastic situation and that most households have been making a conscious effort to reduce, reuse and recycle their plastics in recent years.
“Plastic pollution is quite hazardous to the environment that we live in and I feel quite strongly about it, to the point where my husband and I, we’ve limited our plastic usage completely”.
However, two-thirds of our interviewees, when presented with stark facts about plastic pollution, did not realise the extent of the problem and underestimated the statistics by a large margin, indicating that more action and education is needed generally in order to drive real change.
Common ways people reduce their plastic footprint
The most common actions our consumers take in connection to the plastic problem were: separating their waste into the correct recycling bins
- using reusable bags
- using reusable coffee mugs
- avoiding plastic bags when buying vegetables and fruit.
Supermarkets aren’t doing enough to reduce plastic packaging
The majority of respondents interviewed by VPI raised concerns about supermarkets not doing enough.
Many respondents mentioned unnecessary packaging on products and a lot that is not recyclable. More plastic-free, refill shops are opening, and they’d like supermarkets to follow the trend because it’s better for the environment and more cost-effective too. In April 2019, Which? investigated how much supermarket plastic packaging is recyclable. Morrisons scored the highest when calculated by weight, but ranked bottom per recyclable item while Tesco and Waitrose finished top.
Our research showed that the ability to take your own container into supermarkets was one of the most popular ideas. Some said that this would not only would benefit the environment but is a more cost-effective and convenient way of storing their foods too.
In general, those we interviewed said that they felt that responsibility fell more on them as individuals, “constantly having to go out of their own way” to ensure that their household waste is getting recycled properly.
Having the support of supermarkets would help support customers to continue with their ‘green strategies’ and give them the opportunity to do even more, as it would make it more convenient and easier. There is scepticism among the respondents about whether companies would do this, as there is the perception that they are driven by money and the changes required would require too much financial investment.
Brands seen to be reducing plastic usage
Despite the majority of respondents airing concerns about plastic packaging in supermarkets, many supermarket and retail brands were also seen to be making an effort to improve.
Companies and brands mentioned that were perceived to be doing well in reducing plastics included Primark, Morrisons, Marks & Spencer, Evian and Waitrose.
“…For example Morrisons are one of the companies that have stopped offering unpackaged, I will definitely give them my trade and Sainsburys and Mark’s they are well known for their ethical meats…”
“The Co-op have done their biodegradable plastic bags recently we try to use them because of their values”
Others mentioned included Primark for its paper bags, Morrisons for its plastic-free fruit and vegetable aisles, Marks & Spencer for their plastic-free trials and reduction of plastics, Evian for their 100% recyclable water bottles and Waitrose for its emphasis on reusable coffee cups and hessian bags.
Brands seen to be bad for plastic pollution
The majority of those interviewed said that they would avoid brands altogether who are not making an effort at all to reduce their plastic usage. The brands that were mentioned doing particularly badly were companies that do online deliveries such as Amazon, as they tend to overpackage items with bubble wrap and unnecessary plastics.
“You order something online and it comes with a little box surrounded by plastic bubble wrapping and it’s just unnecessary arguably…I think Amazon are bad for it…I don’t really use Amazon that much I try to avoid it if I can”.
Convenience is key
Generally, consumers would support more sustainable brands that were making efforts to reduce and recycle plastic, but the majority said that it depends on an individual basis of convenience and the types of products that they tend to buy.
In summary, it is evident that more needs to be done to combat plastic pollution. The majority of the public are willing to change their routines to help recycle, reduce and reuse plastics as long as they have the support of the companies and brands too. The media has hugely influenced the public to make positive changes to their recycling habits and has helped promote an awareness of the consequences, but more action needs to happen. Majority of people think that most companies are all covering the same processes of recycling and no one is standing out in particular.
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