Brits cut bottled water consumption by half during lockdown

In 2017

When YouGov asked more than 2,000 working adults whether they regularly purchased bottles of water on-the-go last year, 58% said they did. In polling completed earlier this summer, the proportion stood at just 30%.

The new poll additionally found that more than one-third (36%) of respondents are planning to cook more and to pack their own food in reusable containers post-lockdown than they did last year; one-fifth are planning to use fewer disposable bottles after lockdown and one-fifth are using fewer disposable coffee cups. These are all behaviour changes which will minimise their plastics footprint.  

Before lockdown, YouGov research had ascertained that the most common points of purchase for bottled water were at work and on-the-go, for example at train stations. With the Government having instructed members of the public to work from home wherever possible since 23 March – and with this work-from-home recommendation remaining in place until this Saturday (1 August) – workplaces and transport hubs have seen a sizeable decrease in footfall.

The polling, backed by Brita UK, Keep Britain Tidy and Whale & Dolphin Conservation, also sought to garner respondents’ feelings on refill and reuse post-pandemic. Green groups have repeatedly voiced concern that reuse would fall down the agenda, after some scientific studies found that Covid-19 can survive on hard surfaces like plastic for more than a day, and after businesses like Starbucks paused their reuse and refill initiatives.

These fears now seem to have abated in the wake of a joint letter, signed by 119 scientists from 18 nations, stating that reusable containers are safe to use as long as basic sanitation measures are followed. Just one in ten of the YouGov respondents said they needed extra reassurance that reusable containers are safe to use at this time, while just one in 20 said they believe single-use items are safer than reusable alternatives.

“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,” Brita UK’s managing director Sarah Taylor said.

“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.”

edie recently rounded up the results of several other surveys tracking plastics use and attitudes to plastics during lockdown. You can read that article in full here. The editorial team have also put together a feature exploring how the big plastics lobby is capitalising on the pandemic, and how retailers are striving to minimise plastic use as online sales displace in-store shopping.

Lasting change?

The pandemic has, for most people, necessitated dramatic lifestyle changes which were required to be made at short notice. As such, several surveys have sought to ascertain whether the general public would be equally willing to adapt their behaviours to deal with a slow-building emergency – global warming – than with the immediate pandemic.

Recent research by Futerra asked 1,000 UK residents and 1,000 US residents about the behaviour changes they had made during lockdown, and whether they would be willing to change their lifestyles to mitigate or adapt to climate change. Across the two groups, 80% said they would make lifestyle changes as drastic as those forced by lockdown in order to help minimise global warming.

The UK Government then polled members of the Climate Assembly, who were chosen to resemble the national population in terms of both social demographics and views on environmental issues. 93% of Assembly members said they would like Government support to continue the behaviours they have adopted during lockdown which have minimised their carbon footprint and waste footprint. Such behaviours include avoiding flights, choosing active transport, working from home and minimising food waste.

A £2bn package for walking and cycling was unveiled earlier this week, but dedicated supports for the other activities are yet to be forthcoming.

The YouGov survey posed the same question – would you be willing to change your behaviour as much as you have because of Covid-19, to help manage issues like biodiversity loss and climate change? The majority (69%) said they would.

Sarah George

Comments (1)

  1. Debbie Winton says:

    I am interested in seeing the detail of the YouGov survey referenced at the start of this article – "proportion of UK adults regularly purchasing plastic bottled water almost halved during lockdown, new research from YouGov has concluded" – but I cannot find it anywhere on the YoUGov website. Can you share a link to it please?

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