Britons doing less to care for the environment compared to 2019
July 31st, 2023, Kineree Shah

Britons doing less to care for the environment compared to 2019

YouGov studied Britons’ attitudes to a variety of environmentally-friendly behaviours in 2019 and, this month, we revisited the questions we asked using our versatile YouGov Surveys: Serviced tool to see if anything has changed. Some of the answers may concern environmentalists. 

Across the 12 actions to reduce impact on the environment we listed, in only one of them do we see any increase in behaviour – buying clothes that are second hand or made of recycled materials (from 26% in 2019 to 30% this year). In one – using bamboo/re-usable cutlery – there was no change (11%). Across the other ten, Brits are now LESS likely to behave in ways which are less harmful to the environment. 

Recycling (at home or when out and about) remains the most popular option for reducing your carbon footprint but the proportion of consumers practising this has fallen – from 82% to 79% - over the past four years. 

Re-using shopping bags remains a popular green action but the proportion of people doing so has declined over the same period – from 76% to 71%.  Reusing cups is still a behaviour reported by around half of Brits, but the popularity of this behaviour too has fallen from 55% to 47% in the past four years, according to our data. But significant drops in environmentally friendly behaviour were found elsewhere too. Fewer Britons now upcycle things like jars and bottles (32% vs 27%), buy fewer products that can’t be recycled (35% vs 28%), buy local food (36% vs. 29%) or avoid products that are harmful to the environment (35% vs 30%).

We also delved into where consumers felt the job of reducing single-use plastic use should lie. The results revealed a shift in opinion between 2019 and 2023, with an overall reduction in the expectation that various entities like governments or companies should take responsibility.

Fewer than seven in ten consumers (69%) in 2023 believe companies that produce single-use plastic items are responsible, a drop from 75% in 2019. Similarly, the responsibility attributed to companies selling such products fell from 75% to 70%. Expectation of governmental responsibility also declined, moving from almost three-quarters (72%) to about two-thirds (65%). Retailers, too, saw a reduction in consumers’ expectation of obligation, falling from 71% to 63%.

The expectation for individual consumers to contribute to reduction efforts slipped significantly (from 66% to 57%). Interestingly, consumers are much less likely to feel that public actions like petitions and boycotts have a role in reducing single-use plastics. Support for this fell most significantly – from nearly three-tenths (29%) to fewer than one in five (18%). Charities and NGOs were seen as least responsible, with a significant drop from nearly a quarter (23%) in 2019 to fewer than one in seven (14%) in 2023.

As part of our exploration into attitudes towards single-use plastic, the survey asked UK consumers what they believed to be the most effective solution for reducing plastic waste. A sizeable three in ten Britons (30%) supported a total ban on single-use plastic, thus identifying the most drastic measure as the most effective. The concept of increasing the use of bioplastics, which are plastics derived from renewable biomass sources, appealed to nearly one in five (19%) as a potential solution.

On the other hand, the traditional route of increased recycling was favoured by about 15% of consumers. The concept of zero-waste supermarkets was endorsed by one in ten participants (10%).

While some activities to reduce environmental impact have seen a decrease in engagement, the shifting perception of responsibility and identification of potential solutions highlight the increasingly complex nature of the plastic waste challenge. The focus on shared responsibility rather than pinpointing a single entity demonstrates a mature understanding of the multifaceted nature of the environmental issues at hand – even if it may make for disappointment among those who want to see quick changes. 

These illuminating findings underscore the power and potential of comprehensive market research in informing critical decisions and strategies. If you're a marketer or brand looking to gain similar insights about your audience, remember that you too can conduct such surveys. With our YouGov Surveys: Serviced tool, you have the means to connect with your audience, understand their attitudes, behaviours, and preferences, and shape your strategy accordingly. Harness the power of data-driven insights with YouGov today to stay ahead of the curve and make informed decisions that resonate with your consumers.

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YouGov Surveys: Serviced provide quick survey results from nationally representative or targeted audiences in multiple markets. This study was conducted online on 10-12 July 2023, with a nationally representative sample of 2,101 adults 2019 and 2,197 in 2023 in UK (aged 18+ years), using a questionnaire designed by YouGov. Data figures have been weighted by age, gender, education level, region, and social grade and to be representative of all adults in UK (18 years or older), and reflect the latest ONS population estimates. Learn more about YouGov Surveys: Serviced.

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