September 27, 2021

Confusion curtails Brits’ best environmental efforts

Ahead of Earth Day, new research released by Ecover highlights the nation’s changing attitudes towards plastic usage and recycling.

Britons would happily part with £4 a week more for their shopping if all the packaging was recyclable, the study reveals. British people are now so switched on to helping the environment that they would be prepared to foot the bill when it comes to the things they buy, to the tune of £208 a year. And those aged 18-24 are prepared to pay three times as much as the over 65s.

Sea change in environmental attitudes

A major driver for the sea change in attitude appears to be Sir David Attenborough’s series Blue Planet II, which revealed the shocking state of plastic waste in the world’s oceans. An incredible one in five people in the UK (20 per cent) have started using reusable shopping bags since watching the documentaries on the TV. One in six (16 per cent) have made more effort to recycle at work or at home, while 13 per cent have switched to products that use less packaging.

Recycling responsibility

The study by eco-cleaning pioneers Ecover, found that more than a third of us (36 per cent) now back fines or taxes for industry if they don’t take more responsibility. More than half (53 per cent) back a plastic bottle deposit scheme, while 42 per cent are calling for plastic-free aisles to be installed in supermarkets with 83 per cent keen for product refills to be more widely available. One in 10 of us would even make it a criminal offence to throw recyclable material in a normal bin.

Growing concern for environment and health

Calls for action come as environmental concerns increase across the UK. Three quarters of British people (75 per cent) are concerned about plastic in our oceans, while two-thirds (66 per cent) worry about plastic affecting wildlife. But the big new concern is human health – 39 per cent of us are now anxious about the presence of micro plastics in tap water and plastic in the food chain.

Recycling-based resentment

The survey also found that people who don’t recycle cause resentment. More than a third of us (38 per cent) believe that people who don’t recycle are as bad as those who drop litter in the street. One in 10 say they couldn’t be in a relationship with someone who doesn’t recycle.

Confusion curtailing recycling efforts

Efforts are being made to recycle at home, according to the research, with two thirds of us (60 per cent) saying we recycle as often as we can. Homes in the North-East recycle the most (79 per cent), whereas the South-East is the worst at 55 per cent. But there is still a level of confusion caused by the packaging the goods we buy come in with.

More than a third of us (37 per cent) don’t always know if products can or can’t be recycled and put them in the general waste bin when in doubt. And seven in 10 of us are confused about what plastics we can recycle – 65 per cent wrongly believe clingfilm can go in the recycling bin, and 71 per cent incorrectly think that laminated rice pouches can be recycled.

Calls for education, transparency and choice

As well as wanting more education on what can and can’t be recycled (45 per cent), we also want clearer labelling on products (56 per cent) to indicate the level of recycled content and recyclability, and more refillable products to come on the market (27 per cent). People want to be able to buy products that don’t rely on plastic packaging (54 per cent), with 40 per cent calling for industry experimentation into bio-based alternatives to plastics.

Ecover, which has long been a voice on sustainability and plastic pollution, is doing its bit with the launch of its first 100 per cent recycled and 100 per cent recyclable plastic washing-up liquid bottles made from post-consumer recycled plastic such as that found in drinks bottles. The bottle is one of a series of commitments to help change the culture of using plastic as a disposable resource and provide people with the information they need to help close the loop on plastic production.

Tom Domen, Global Innovation Lead at Ecover, says: “As manufacturers, we believe we need to totally re-think plastic – how we make it, use it, re-use it and recycle it. We want to make it as easy as possible for people to make environmentally-friendly choices without compromise. We want to eradicate single-use plastic. And then we want to envision a world that is plastic-free.

“Our new washing-up liquid bottle is 100 per cent recycled and 100 per cent recyclable – with a commitment that all our bottles will go this way by 2020. Building on our use of innovative materials such as our Ocean Plastic and PlantPlastic packaging, we’re aiming to trial the use of alternative biodegradable and bio-sourced packaging that doesn’t rely on plastic by 2020, as well as champion the expansion of our refills into mainstream supermarkets.”

Ecover Rubbish Café

To help show the incredible value of putting plastics back into the recycling system and challenge the perception that ‘rubbish’ has no value, Ecover is launching The Rubbish Café in May – a sustainable pop-up café experience in London where recyclable plastic is the only currency accepted.

Tom Domen adds: “The Ecover Rubbish Café will serve a delicious zero-waste menu from eco-chef Tom Hunt and will be kitted out with a stylish upcycled décor inspired by eco-designer Max McMurdo. The two-day pop-up will serve up inspiration and ideas for simple swaps we can all make to reduce, reuse and recycle plastic, whilst providing lunch in sumptuously upcycled surroundings.”

Friends of the Earth plastic-free campaigner, Julian Kirby, says: “The public enthusiasm for action on plastic waste and recycling sends a powerful signal to government and industry that tougher action is not just needed, it’s wanted too. Some companies, such as Ecover, are taking this issue seriously, but we need more firms and retailers to play their part. While the government has taken small steps to target plastic pollution, it’s not enough to address the scale of action required to prevent plastics from choking our oceans. The government must listen to the public, phase out single-use plastic and draw up plans to end the use of all but the most essential plastics.”