David Attenborough and the Blue Planet documentary series has spearheaded an environmental revolution, or at the very least made us rethink our dependency on plastic. That is one takeaway from a report conducted by Global Web Index, a market research company based in the UK.
According to the report, interest in "plastic recycling" jumped after Blue Planet II (October 2017), with searches for the term increasing 55 percent in the UK. This is part of a larger-scale phenomenon they are now calling "The Attenborough Effect" – defined as "a chain of events which have resulted in the so-called War on Plastic Waste and the wider social movement surrounding it." On a political level, this might include the EU's ban on single-use plastic or the UN's #BeatPlasticPollution campaign. On the ground, it could be one person's decision to cut down on plastic.
As for the latter, it appears to be something more and more of us are doing. The report, designed to investigate consumer perceptions and behavior toward sustainable packaging in the UK and US, found that 53 percent of the 4,000 or so respondents say they have reduced the amount of plastic they have used in the last 12 months, while 42 percent say that "products that use recycled/sustainable materials are important in their day-to-day shopping". And yet, 28 percent say they do not have enough information about what can be recycled and 72 percent say "products that are affordable are important in their day-to-day shopping."
While the number of people willing to pay more for eco-friendly products has increased – passing the half-way mark from 49 percent in 2011 to 57 percent in 2018 – the researchers noticed a generation-gap, with the younger generation prepared to do more in the name of sustainability than their elders. This might not be surprising if you've been keeping up with the student climate protestors. As Generation Z mobilize, (many) older politicians are still neglecting the issue or are actively rolling back environmental regulations. This is reflected in the survey: The researchers found a 20 percentage-point difference between those aged 16 to 24 and those aged 55 to 64, with those in the latter group placing more emphasis on affordability.
"Clearly, sustainable materials are more of a consideration for younger consumers," the report authors say. This, they add, may be because they have grown up "during the height of the sustainability crisis" and it may also be partly due to their engagement with social media. Forty percent of people in this age group are "easily swayed by other people's opinion", they found.
The report was based on self-reporting, which is not the most accurate method in the world. Yet its findings do seem to be supported by sales figures. The introduction of a 5p charge on single-use bags saw sales drop 85 percent in the UK, for example. At the same time, the popularity of reusable cups is soaring.
So here's hoping Attenborough's latest doc on climate change has just as big of an impact.