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69% of Britons are willing to change their behaviour to manage a global crisis such as environmental threat

Our new research suggests remote working could be the solution to single-use plastic pollution after people cut down on unsustainable choices while away from the office

At BRITA, we comissioned a survey that highlights a new willingness to accept drastic change to day-to-day life when required.


Our findings suggest that positive, eco-friendly habits picked up at home during lockdown could be the cultural shift needed to help tackle plastic pollution, reduce litter and protect marine life.

In fact, almost seven in ten people said they were willing to alter their behaviour to manage a global crisis or existential threat, and 71% now believe people should be more willing to change their behaviour if necessary, mirroring how well the public responded to lockdown rules when the coronavirus risk became evident.

Here's a closer look at what the survey results revealed:

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Before the crisis, 42% of people purchased bottled water for consumption at home despite having easy access to tap or filtered water; that fell to 32% during lockdown, with reasons given including a desire to reduce plastic consumption in the home (59%) as well as factors such as saving money (29%), not being able to access it in stores (10%), or not wanting to transport heavy bottles (20%).

Beach Litter - Plastic Waste

According to Whale & Dolphin Conservation, who we have worked with since 2017, up to 12.7m tonnes of plastic leak into oceans every year. Yet despite growing fears of increased single-use plastic pollution during the pandemic, particularly from PPE[i], the research suggests people were actually thinking more about their plastic footprint during lockdown.

Whilst not addressing the rise in plastic waste from PPE, it is encouraging to see that almost a fifth (18%) of people are avoiding plastic packaging as much as possible. And despite decisions by large coffee shop chains and train operators in early March to stop taking reusable coffee cups and bottles[ii], only 5% of consumers think single use items are safer than reusables and only one in 10 require reassurance that reusable containers are safe to use.

Park Litter - Plastic waste

In fact, despite concerns environmental action would be on hold during the pandemic, the figures indicate some have embraced new habits that help the planet and their bank balances. With more time on their hands, 30% of respondents are doing more meal planning, increasing to 38% of millennials, while 34% are more conscious of reducing food waste by using up everything in the fridge.

Notably, in spite of the influx of images of litter-strewn beaches and parks and the heightened risk of more plastic pollution being washed into oceans and waterways, almost two thirds of respondents (63%) and 70% of those at home due to their working situation, say they appreciate their local natural environment more than before lockdown, and almost half (42%) are now more conscious of maintaining their local natural environment and not littering in parks and green spaces.

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Richard McIlwain, Deputy Chief Executive of Keep Britain Tidy

“Since Blue Planet II aired, we are perhaps more aware of the damage we’re doing to the planet, but there is a massive gap between awareness and changing behaviour. However, these findings clearly show how during lockdown, when many people had a little more time to pause and take stock, they were able to adopt simple but effective pro-environmental behaviours. We really need to make sure that in the dash to restart the economy, we don’t lose these changes but preserve and build on them.”

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Chris Butler-Stroud, Chief Executive at Whale and Dolphin Conservation

“The last few months have shown that the public really does value nature as being central to their health and the health of the wider environment. Governments often feel they have to tread carefully in nurturing consumer behaviour; not wanting to feel like they are forcing change on the public. But Covid has changed all that. We are now faced with a window of opportunity for government and the business sector to seize the opportunity to help a willing public to make the critical choices to end the use of single use plastics and make the necessary changes to meet the existential threat represented by the climate crisis.”

Mary Creagh, former Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee

“Cutting down on single-use plastics is as important as ever, whether that is using fewer disposable coffee cups or avoiding throwaway water bottles. This research shows that remote working, and daily walks have helped people make the switch to environmentally-friendly practices which is encouraging. It’s important that businesses and the Government continue to support those who choose to work from home. With so many people willing to alter their behaviour to respond to a global crisis, now is the time to rise to the environmental challenge and support people to make small changes that make a big difference.”

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Sarah Taylor, Managing Director of BRITA UK

“The damage that single-use plastic is doing to our marine environment and wildlife, in addition to our wider natural environment, has been well documented. But we also know that many people are committed to tackling this, and it is encouraging to see from this research that even more people have adopted more sustainable behaviours during lockdown in place of less sustainable habits borne out of convenience. What’s clear is that in order to maintain this shift, Government, business and the wider public need to come together to support a more flexible working culture that enables those who can to work remotely at least part of the week, to give people the time and space to integrate sustainability into their lives.”

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[i] Founder of Operation Sea Clean, Laurent Lombard, warned that there could soon be “more masks than jellyfish in the waters of the Mediterranean”

[ii] BBC report on Starbucks ban on reusable cups