Widespread support for plastic packaging tax, new research reveals

More than half of consumers in the UK and a third in the US are in favour of a tax on all plastic packaging on food products, new research has shown

The survey of 1000 consumers, commissioned by specialist PR consultancy Ingredient Communications, also finds that many people are more likely to shop in supermarkets that offer fruit and vegetables without plastic packaging.

In excess of a third of the food sold in the EU is packaged in plastic, and UK supermarkets create more than 800,000 tonnes of plastic packaging waste every year. A charge for plastic bags has reduced their use in the UK by more than 80% since its introduction in 2015.

The online survey, done by research specialists, Surveygoo, indicates significant support for economic incentives to reduce the use of plastic food packaging.

More than half of 500 consumers in the UK (52%) said they were in favour of a tax on all plastic packaging of food products. In the US, support was lower but still significant, with 33% of American consumers favouring such a tax.

In the UK, 41% of consumers said they would be more likely to buy produce from supermarkets that sold fruit and vegetables without plastic packaging, with only 3% saying this would make them less likely to shop there.

In the US, 38% of consumers said they would be more likely to shop in stores selling fruit and vegetables without plastic packaging, although the number saying they were less likely to do so was higher than in the UK (13%).

Richard Clarke, founder and Managing Director of Ingredient Communications, said: “Our research makes clear that there is high demand for food manufacturers to use more plastic-free packaging, and for supermarkets to introduce plastic-free features into their stores."

"However, the benefits of plastic packaging for food and beverage products are often overlooked. It helps protect goods from damage, extends shelf-life and creates a brand identity, which undoubtedly influences consumers’ purchasing decisions. A key challenge for both manufacturers and retailers of food products is to find alternatives to plastic packaging that maintain these benefits for the supply chain and consumers.”

The research company that conducted the survey for Ingredient Communications believes greater support among UK consumers for measures to tackle plastic waste is linked to Blue Planet 2, the recent BBC documentary that exposed its impact on marine life.

Neil Cary, Managing Director of Surveygoo, said: “Our research definitely reflects the Blue Planet effect in the UK. Viewers were left in no doubt about the harmful and often heart-breaking impact of plastic waste, and many were inspired to make a change."

"In the US, although there is still significant support for a plastic tax, the figures are much lower. This probably reflects greater public opposition to taxation generally, as well as greater scepticism about government measures to protect the environment.”

In the UK, companies creating packaging waste are currently obliged to buy a packaging recovery note (PRN), which effectively constitutes a tax. As part of its 25-year environmental plan, the UK government is reported to be considering an increase in the cost of PRNs for businesses that package their goods in unrecyclable plastic.

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