Global perspectives toward single-use plastics
November 18th, 2021, Janice Fernandes

Global perspectives toward single-use plastics

According to campaigners Greenpeace, single-use plastic pollution is devastating our rivers, oceans, waterways and communities around the world. But just how cognisant are consumers around the world of the damage it can do to the environment?

A new survey from YouGov reveals these perceptions. We asked consumers in 17 markets across the globe whether they thought plastics were harming the environment - or whether they believe the negative impacts of the material are exaggerated.

Nearly eight in ten global consumers say single-use plastics are harming the environment (79%)

In 12 out of the 17 markets surveyed, at least 80% of consumers agreed that single-use plastics hurt the environment. At the top of this list is Great Britain, with 88% of adults agreeing on environmental harm. Mexico (87%), Spain (84%), Indonesia (84%), Germany (82%), Australia (82%), Poland (82%), Hong Kong (81%), India (81%), France (81%), China (80%), and Denmark (80%) round out the rest of these markets.

Italy, the US and the UAE feature lowest on this list, albeit that two-thirds of consumers in these markets still perceive plastics to be harmful. Among those that disagree, the highest proportion is in the US (10%), followed by Sweden (9%).

Across the 17 markets, 13% of global consumers hold a neutral opinion on the harmfulness of single-use plastics.

Is the negative impact of single-use plastic an exaggeration?

As a corollary to the argument above, we asked if people thought the effects of single-use plastics on the environment are exaggerated or not. Consumers globally are more than twice as likely to disagree (54%) as agree with the idea while roughly a fifth are on the fence (18%).

Slightly more than half of the consumers in urban India (51%) agree that the negative impact of single-use plastic is an exaggeration, even though they are either being banned or phased out across the country. In the UAE, 42% consumers are also in agreement - however, a quarter of UAE consumers disagree with the statement.

Three-quarters of Brits believe that the negative impact of single-use plastics is not an exaggeration - the highest of all the countries we polled - while only half of the US population believes the same.

While you might expect an attitudinal difference between generations in a large market like the US, there doesn’t seem to be one. Almost half of younger Americans disagree that the impact of plastics is exaggerated (47% 18-24, 47% 25-34, 47% 35-44), while older Americans are slightly more likely to disagree with the statement (54% 55+).

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Methodology: The data is based on the interviews of adults aged 18 and over in 17 markets with sample sizes varying between 509 and 2005 for each market. All interviews were conducted online in June 2021. Data from each market uses a nationally representative sample apart from Mexico and India, which use urban representative samples, and Indonesia and Hong Kong, which use online representative samples.