What Does the UK Public Know About Microplastics? Complete Survey Results

Despite their tiny size, microplastics are posing huge problems for the global environment, as the amount of plastic waste in the world’s waters is increasing and endangering the health of our ecosystems.

The importance of tackling this problem is the focus of Lanes’ MOOD (Microplastics Out of Our Drains) campaign, which calls for action to reduce and prevent the spread of microplastics into our sewers and seas. But how much does the British public understand about the environmental impact of microplastics? We sought to find out by carrying out a consumer survey of 958 people.

The results of our public poll revealed that many people in the UK are already aware of and concerned about the potential environmental impact of microplastics – and that there is widespread support for more decisive government and industry action to tackle the problem.

The full findings of our survey can be seen below – please feel free to quote or republish these figures, citing Lanes Group at www.lanesfordrains.co.uk if you do so!
Our key findings

Our key findings

Most people have heard of microplastics – but need more education

According to the results of our survey, there is already a solid level of awareness of the microplastics issue among the British public – but more needs to be done before people feel totally confident in their knowledge on this important environmental topic.

  • 72% of respondents said they had heard of microplastics before taking this survey
  • However, when asked how much they feel they knew about microplastics, only 6% said they felt they were “well-informed” or “experts” on the topic
  • 41% said they had “some knowledge” of microplastics, while 29% have merely “heard of them”

The microplastics problem is being greatly underestimated

Even though most respondents know about microplastics, the survey findings indicate that many people are underestimating the scale of the problem and the number of contributory sources by a significant margin.

  • Only 39% realised that 15 million tons of microplastics are released into our environment each year – the remaining 61% believed the figure was 1.5 million tons or less, showing the scale of the problem is being underestimated by a factor of ten!
  • Similarly, only 40% knew that overall, 300 million tons of plastic waste are released into the environment annually, with the remaining 60% believing the figure was only 30 million tons or less
  • US studies estimate that the average American ingests between 74,000 and 121,000 microplastic particles every year. Only 21% of our respondents guessed this was the case, with 33% expecting it to be higher, and 44% thinking it would be lower

People underestimate the microplastic impact from sources such as tyres and road markings

When asked which products are common sources of microplastic pollution, our respondents were able to correctly identify many of the correct answers – but potentially underestimated other important contributing factors.

  • More than 60% of respondents understand that water bottles, takeaway cups, cosmetics and glitter are sources of microplastics
  • 58% knew that wet wipes contain microplastic fibres, while 57% understood that detergents and dishwasher tablets are microplastic sources
  • Only around half of those polled knew that clothing fibres (51%) and erosion from tyres (49%) are responsible for microplastic pollution
  • Only 32% knew that erosion from road markings is a source of microplastics – in fact, it is estimated that 7% of all microplastic pollution comes from road markings alone!

Consumers worry about microplastics in their products – but are they acting on it?

Our survey showed that consumers are worried about microplastics in the products they buy, and are usually diligent about recycling – but are less vigilant when it comes to checking the plastic content of the products they buy.

  • 75% said the presence of microplastics in a product would affect their purchasing decision
  • However, only 12% said they check most or all of the products they buy to see if they contain plastic
  • By contrast, 29% said they only sometimes check the plastic content of their products, while a further 12% check the products they know contain microplastics. 27% said they rarely check products, and 19% said they never do
  • When asked about whether they recycle various common products, the majority of respondents recycle all of them, with the highest percentages seen for plastic bottles (83%), metal cans (77%) and glass (77%). The lowest recycling rates were seen for plastic bags (56%), despite these being a major microplastics source
  • When asked if they would consider having a microfibre filter installed in their washing machine, 39% said yes and a further 50% said they would consider it depending on the cost

The public supports industry and government action on microplastic prevention

Finally, our survey offered a clear indication that the general public supports decisive industry and government action on microplastics prevention, in line with the goals of our MOOD campaign.

  • When asked to rank who is most responsible for reducing the spread of microplastics, businesses and the industry came out top, followed by the government, consumers and finally environmental charities
  • 60% said they favour an outright ban on all intentionally added microplastic particles in consumer or professional use products, compared to 38% who think an industry pledge to reduce microplastic content from their products would be preferable
  • 89% agree that washing machine manufacturers should have to fit microfibre filters in all new washing machines as standard
  • 75% think that the UK should appoint a designated governmental Minister for Plastic Pollution to help address this problem

View the complete survey findings

Had you heard of microplastics before taking this survey?

Answer ChoicesPercentage ChoicesResponses

How much do you feel you know about microplastics?

Answer ChoicesPercentageResponses
Not at all24.39%228
Heard of them28.56%267
Some knowledge40.96%383

On average, how many tons of microplastic are released into our environment each year?

Answer ChoicesPercentageResponses
1 ton0.65%5
150 tons6.26%48
15,000 tons18.38%141
1.5 million tons35.33%271
15 million tons39.37%302

On average, how many tons of overall plastic waste are released into our environment each year?

Answer ChoicesPercentageResponses
30 tons1.04%8
3,000 tons5.08%39
300,000 tons11.47%88
3 million tons17.99%138
30 million tons24.77%190
300 million tons39.63%304

On average, how many particles of microplastic does each American citizen ingest every year?

Answer ChoicesPercentageResponses
700 – 6,9997.69%59
7,000 – 30,99917.47%134
31,000 – 73,99919.30%148
74,000 – 120,99921.12%162
121,000 – 239,9999.00%69
More than 240,00025.42%195

Which of the following products do you think are sources of microplastics?

Answer ChoicesPercentageResponses
None of the above0.91%7
Detergents and dishwasher tablets57.24%439
Takeaway cups68.45%525
Wet wipes58.41%448
Water bottles69.23%531
Road marking32.46%249

How often do you check whether the products you are purchasing contain plastic?

Answer ChoicesPercentageResponses
I rarely check products27.25%206
I sometimes check products29.37%222
I check only the products that I know commonly contain microplastics12.30%93
I check most products10.45%79
I check every product1.19%9

Would the presence of microplastics in a product affect your purchasing decisions?

Answer ChoicesPercentage Responses

Which of these products do you regularly recycle?

Answer ChoicesPercentageResponses
None of the above1.19%9
Plastic bottles82.67%625
Plastic carrier bags56.08%424
Old clothes64.81%490
Metal cans76.46%578

Who do you think is most responsible for reducing the spread of microplastics?

The government29.93% – 22036.33% – 26726.67% – 1967.07% – 527352.89
Industry44.76% – 32934.42% – 25313.88% – 1026.94% – 517353.17
Consumers18.91% – 13923.40% – 17244.08% – 32413.61% – 1007352.48
Environmental charities6.39% – 475.85% – 4315.37% – 11372.38% – 5327351.46

Which would be your preferred solution to curbing the spread of microplastics?

Answer ChoicesPercentageResponses
An outright ban on all intentionally added microplastic particles in consumer or professional use products60.14%442
An industry pledge to reduce microplastic content from their products38.23%281
No specific action is needed1.63%12

Do you think washing machine manufacturers should have to fit microfibre filters in all new washing machines?

Answer ChoicesPercentageResponses

Would you purchase a separate microfibre filter to install in your existing washing machine?

Answer ChoicesPercentageResponses
Depends on the cost49.52%364

Do you think the government should appoint a designated Minister for Plastic Pollution to help address this problem?

Answer ChoicesPercentageResponses

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