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The scientific consensus on climate change is undoubtable, with 97% of the world’s climate scientists and every scientific institution supporting the idea that humans are directly and negatively affecting the world that we live in. It’s also not only temperature increases that are occurring, increases in carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, mass insect and animal die off, reductions in biodiversity, mass poisoning of fresh and seawater and deforestation are just some of the major environmental catastrophes we are committing.

The solutions for the problems we are causing are wide-ranging but unfortunately are receiving very little support at the highest levels of government. In the face of official intransigence, obstruction and outright denial, people across the globe are increasingly having to take positive individual actions rather than being able to join in comprehensive, government-led initiatives.

How UK Consumers Are Reacting

For the case of plastic packaging in the UK, it is British consumers who are trying to drive change in the national approach to the use of plastics. A major survey has revealed that more than 80% of UK consumers are attempting to cut the amount of plastic they waste. This is a phenomenal number which shows the depth of support for actions that would make a positive impact, or at least lessen a negative one, on the environment.

To go even further, more than 50% would be willing to pay more for eco-friendly packaging or the introduction of obligations on producers to change their usage of plastics. Certain initiatives, such as a levy on plastic shopping bags, has already had considerable impact but problems are arising in other areas.

The Growing Issue of Single-Use Plastics

Single-use plastics, e.g. the wrapping around a pair of avocados or carton of apples, is on the rise, as retailers try to boost sales by improving the attractiveness or freshness of their produce. It is in precisely this area that UK consumers are making an effort to reduce their personal plastic packaging waste, with 81% of them stating they were trying to make less purchases of fresh produce in single-use packaging.

Half of those surveyed said they would be willing to pay an extra 2%, with 27% stating they would pay up to an extra 5% on groceries to ensure the packaging used was biodegradable. These might seem like small numbers, but in terms of behavioural economics, the UK’s slow-down in consumer spending and the pricing strategies of supermarkets it would be a major shift.

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Proposals for Change

Included in the survey, UK consumers were asked how they felt about other policy initiatives which could cut waste. The results showed that they were broadly in favour of all moves to reduce the impact of their actions on the environment. Nearly 70% believed that, by law, companies should be obligated to use only eco-friendly packaging, 71% would like to see a bigger rollout of the 7¢ charge on plastic bags which currently only applies to larger retailers.

In line with the example set by their European neighbors, including Germany, Sweden and Denmark, a large number of Britons, 80%, would be happy to see the introduction of a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles (e.g. in Germany, you pay 30¢ more for a bottle of cola, but when you bring back the bottle, you get the money back).

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