UK public underestimating microplastics problem by a factor of ten, survey shows

The scale of the environmental problems caused by microplastics is ten times worse than the British public realise, according to a new survey from the drainage experts at Lanes Group plc.

As part of its new advocacy campaign, Microplastics Out of Our Drains (MOOD), Lanes Group carried out a consumer survey of 958 UK adults to evaluate how much they understood the environmental impact of microplastics, as well as what they believe should be done to tackle the problem.

The survey revealed that 61% of respondents believed that the amount of microplastics released into our environment each year is 1.5 million tons or less – despite the true figure actually being 15 million tons. Similarly, 60% thought only 30 million tons or less of plastic waste are released into the environment annually, when in reality the number is closer to 300 million tons.

This shows that the majority of people in the UK are underestimating the scope of this damaging pollution problem by a factor of ten.

Lanes’ survey also shed light on a number of other eye-opening trends, including:

  • 72% of respondents said they had already heard of microplastics before taking this survey, but only 6% felt they were “well-informed” or “experts” on the topic
  • The majority of respondents understand that microplastics come from sources such as water bottles, cosmetics, wet wipes and detergents, but only 32% knew they come from erosion from road markings – in fact, 7% of ALL microplastic pollution comes from road markings alone!
  • 75% said the presence of microplastics in a product would affect their purchasing decision – but only 12% said check most or all of the products they buy to see if they contain plastic
  • 60% of the public would be in favour of an outright ban on all intentionally added microplastic particles in consumer or professional use products, and 89% agree that washing machine manufacturers should fit microfibre filters in new machines as standard
  • 75% think the UK should appoint a designated governmental Minister for Plastic Pollution to help address this problem

Jacob Larkin, a spokesperson for Lanes Group, said:

“The results of our survey show that most Britons are becoming aware of the environmental dangers that microplastics can cause – but it’s also clear that people are underestimating the sheer scale of this growing crisis.

“Although microplastics are one of the smallest forms of pollution, they are doing tremendous damage to our environment, creating dangerous levels of plastic waste in the oceans, and contributing to the sewer blockages and breakdowns that cause problems for people across the UK every day.

“This is why we have launched our new MOOD campaign, which aims to not only raise awareness of the microplastics threat, but also to advocate for the following actions:

  • For the UK to ban ALL intentionally added microplastic particles in consumer or professional use products
  • For UK water companies to establish new regular monitoring programmes for microplastics
  • For a new legal requirement for microfibre filters to be fitted in all new domestic and commercial washing machines, and all existing commercial machines to be retrofitted with similar filters
  • For a designated government minister for plastics pollution to be appointed, with cross-departmental oversight of measures to control and prevent plastic pollution

“The results of our new survey show that all of these measures are already widely supported by the general public. With the UK about to appoint a new prime minister, now is the time for the government to work together with industry partners to make the commitments necessary to regain control of what will otherwise be a long-term ecological disaster.”

You can view the full findings of the survey here.

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