Survey: Almost half of UK SMEs failing to act on single-use plastics

A major survey of more than 1,000 UK small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) has found while the majority of businesses understand the importance of reducing single-use plastics, 40% are yet to carry out basic measures to reduce plastic waste.

Survey: Almost half of UK SMEs failing to act on single-use plastics

20% claim they aren’t motivated by concerns for the environment in the slightest

The YouGov data, commissioned by Keep Britain Tidy and Brita UK has found that SME action to combat single-use plastics has been sluggish. The survey of more than 1,000 SME decision makers found that only 52% are doing “all they can” to reduce single-use plastics.

The survey found that 40% of businesses had not carried out basic steps, such as auditing, supply chain engagement or offering alternatives to staff.

Keep Britain Tidy’s chief executive Allison Ogden-Newton said: “This research makes for shocking reading but it is not simply about knocking businesses for inaction – it is about understanding the barriers they face and looking to work with them to offer the expertise, support and guidance that will help them transform for good.

“There are some 5.7 million small and medium-sized businesses in the UK, accounting for 99% of all businesses – so we need them to take action alongside the household names.”

SME plastic approaches, in numbers:

  • Less than a third (30%): Say their business has encouraged staff to use reusable alternatives
  • 20%: have replaced some single-use plastics staff use
  • 30% have encouraged staff to use reusables
  • 4% have used incentives to encourage customers to reduce their use of single-use plastics
  • 6% have carried out an audit of the single-use plastics in their business
  • 52% say their business is doing all it can to reduce its single-use plastics
  • 15% have taken steps to replace single-use plastic in their supply
  • 23% believe their business is responsible for helping customers reduce consumption of single-use plastics,
  • 22% think their business has a duty to be a leader in their sector on this issue.

In total, 70% of SMEs acknowledge that staff want to reduce their single-use plastic footprint, but more than a third claim a lack of staff engagement is preventing reductions. In fact, only 14% have installed or increased the availability of filtered drinking water taps or fountains since last summer.

One of the standout findings of the survey is that 44% do not think their business has a responsibility to provide recycling facilities in the workplace, while 20% claim they aren’t motivated by concerns for the environment in the slightest.

Brita UK’s managing director Sarah Taylor said: “The last few years have seen a sea change in our awareness of the impact of single-use plastic on the marine and wider environment. It’s been exciting to see so many household name businesses take big steps to reduce their single-use plastic footprint, from providing staff with reusable alternatives, such as reusable water bottles and coffee cups, to trialling refill schemes for customers in stores.

“As a business this is something BRITA has been proud to be a part of. But it’s clear that smaller organisations have not been as confident at making changes, despite what their customers and staff are saying. Real change will only be achieved if the business community comes together to find solutions to the challenges posed by single-use plastic.”

During a 2018 survey, financial services provider Close Brothers Asset Finance asked representatives from 900 UK SMEs what they were doing to reduce their plastics waste footprint. Here are some of the stand-out results. 

The survey found that 58% of SMEs felt they didn’t have enough support or resources to reduce single-use plastics. On this occasion, 83% noted plastics reduction as a “significant problem” for their business.

Last April, a coalition of 42 businesses jointly committed to making unnecessary single-use plastic packaging “a thing of the past”. edie has rounded up the impact that this commitment, made as part of WRAP’s Plastic Pact, has had on resource management.

Commenting on the survey, WWF’s sustainable materials specialist, Paula Chin said: “These businesses need to understand both the scale of the problem and how to be part of the solution. They must make better packaging choices and take responsibility for their plastic footprint. But this is a global problem that requires a global response. This is why we are calling for a global and legally binding UN agreement to stop the leakage of plastics into our oceans by 2030.”

During a plastic-themed webinar earlier this year, representatives from Sky, Cranswick, Aquafil and A Plastic Planet gave their advice for professionals looking to eliminate single-use plastics from their organisations. Here, edie rounds up their 10 key takeaways.

Matt Mace

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie