James McQuarrie is a UK based Product Leader who helps teams discover, design, build and deliver digital products and services that delight their users.
A few weeks ago I asked my network on LinkedIn a simple question:
“Have you ever thought about how you could reduce your use of single use plastics?”
2040 people saw the poll. 92 people responded (roughly a 4.5% engagement rate).
Of the respondents 84 (91%) said “Yes”. 8 (9%) said “No”.
I asked those who said no, and a sample of those who said yes, “Why?”.
Here are their replies:
First: those who answered “No” they’d not thought about how they could reduce their use of single use plastics
A developer from West Yorkshire:
“I answered ‘no’ because I don’t use single-use plastics. I cook everything from fresh, don’t use soft drinks etc… I reuse my bags-for-life, but unfortunately have to use disposable things like bin bags. Plastic packaging in supermarkets is obviously something they need to reduce too…
I’m of an age where you got sixpence back on your empty glass bottles, but I have no idea how you bought shampoo before plastic bottles were invented.
I don’t consider myself to be an eco-warrior, and am certainly not on board with the generation of climate holocaust fear-mongers. I’m a pragmatist, and think that the placebo of battery-powered vehicles and wind generation isnâ€™t as cost-free as its claimed to be… I look back to my parents’ generation and yearn for the simplicity of regularly-bought fresh food that didn’t involve a 4×4 journey. The death of the local butcher and grocer has a part to play in all of it – hopefully in the post-Covid world thereâ€™ll be room for local shopping and a return to community life…”
A Product Director from London explained:
“I guess I really lay the responsibility with the manufacturers/supermarkets to reduce it as in the end it’s all in the packaging.
I personally never buy water bottles as I drink tap water and I also recycle our plastic/paper etc that comes from shopping and have not really seen a decrease in the amount being recycled which to me implies the packaging has not really changed at all.
I guess to say I didn’t consider plastics may not be completely true as when I think about it more, there are some cleaning products i.e. washing machine liquid etc that if they have ‘currently not recyclable’ on it I would opt for one that does (but guess that was unconscious selection at work).”
Another Developer from West Yorkshire explained:
“I’ve never ‘thought about reducing single use plastics’ but that doesn’t mean that I go out of my way to use plastic only once. Far from it, I hate getting plastic bags from shops when I have 100s at home under the sink. Before lockdown, we’d stopped getting plastic bags with a supermarket delivery, and always had a stash to give back to the driver to recycle (although that has stopped now. They force heavy plastic bags on us, and won’t take any back!).
We do tend to buy the biggest of each thing like shampoo, or ‘super-concentrate’ cleaning products, which I suppose is better than buying multiple small ones.
To sum up: It’s very rare I actually buy single use plastics, so it’s not something I positively think about. Maybe that means I do think about it, subconsciously :-)”
A Project Manager from Cumbria explained:
“I just recycle the single use items”
A Business Analyst from London explained:
“Personally I am happy with single use plastics. The plastic straws are better and more convenient than any other versions Iâ€™ve tried. So many times the single use plastics function better than any ‘sustainable’ solution – which in most cases are not sustainable at all. Paper straws that feel like chewing cardboard, rice straws that break in 10 min in a drink. Metal straws – I don’t carry them around and they are difficult to clean by restaurants and bars.
Same for other single use products.”
I asked if they would consider more sustainable replacement products if they were proven to be as sustainable and functional as the plastic alternative?
“Yes. But for many products I haven’t found this.”
The other three people who answered “No” to the poll didn’t reply to my further questions.
Secondly: those who answered “Yes”
I also asked a sample of those who responded “Yes” they had thought about how they could reduce their use of single use plastics: “Why?”
A UX Coach from Bristol explained:
“I feel guilty about using them everytime I do the recycling! Retailers don’t make it easy to do. I wish I could search on supermarket websites for less plastic, or at least see a logo on products that try and do it [reduce their plastic packaging].”
A Developer from Derby explained:
“I’m 45, so in 1980 I was 5 years old.
That’s important because the end of the 70s and early 80s was literally a different era. Change is incremental, so we don’t notice much. Back then (probably not 5) I remember playing in a park and finding empty bottles of pop and getting super excited, because there was a 10p refund on the bottle. Free money! Free sweets!
Milk was delivered by a milkman, in glass bottles that were washed and he drove an electric milk float. My mum used to sew my trousers when I ripped a hole in them. People used to go to the chip shop with their own bowl, rather than have it wrapped in paper. A rag-and-bone man used to collect scrap and sharpen knives.
So, while I’m not claiming to be part of the ‘mend and make do’ war era, I watched with horror as we slowly stopped using reusable containers.
Milk bottles became plastic, clothes became seasonal and throwaway, milk floats are unheard of and how do you even sharpen a knife well these days? So for me, all this reduce/reuse/recycle stuff is actually just a return to how everyone was doing it back when I was little. Back then it was necessary. We got greedy, and now it’s become a necessity again.
I use soap, not shower gel. Soap lasts longer, is cheaper and consumes very little packaging on a multi-pack. Shower gel is a clear example of a product created to suit the needs of the seller. It doesn’t last as long and they can brand the packaging. I remember my grandfather telling me he never used shampoo. It was a con. I laughed. Granddad was right as it turns out.
I also used to work on warehouse systems, and was shocked by the amount of packaging used on things like shirts. It was insane. Wrapped in plastic, in boxes, in larger boxes, on pallets, wrapped in plastic. Delivered to a distribution centre down south, only to be sent back to a retail park 200 yards up the road.”
A Service Designer in Dublin explained:
“I’ve always held a bit of ecological anxiety, so I listen when I hear news of new threats to the planet. I have known for years that plastics are a problem. I think it’s important to consider because of the ‘half life’ they have and the impact they can have over that time they spend in the ecosystem. I do feel, however, that much of the ‘choice’ we have to avoid single use plastic is overstated. The greater capacity to reduce humanity’s use of these lies with regulators and producers. I use a keep cup, avoid storing food in disposable bags, use reusable shopping bags, but Coca-Cola continues to manufacture 200,000 plastic bottles a minute.
When I bought my house was the first time I had autonomy on the household goods. I buy Ecover products because they claim to be better for the environment. Sadly, they all come in (albeit recyclable) plastic containers, but to offset some of this I bought the 5l refill container for the washing detergent. There is a retailer here that sells bulk products, but not the eco friendly ones, so catch-22.
Lockdown is a plastic nightmare. We can’t use keep cups, disposable masks and gloves are all over the streets, even reusable masks (we’re told) need to be sealed in a ziplock bag before returning home to wash.”
A UI Designer from London explained:
“I think it’s a very important topic to have a discussion about.
I think it might have all started when I was looking into reusable nappies for my kids and the sites I looked at got me thinking about plastic waste and the more I read up about it, the more I wanted to reduce our dependency on single use plastic. Lots of plastics end up in the ocean, killing sea life and some of that turns up in the food we eat. I think we all have a part to play in being responsible for our planet and the environment.
I think my proudest moment was when my son, 7, told us that he has set up an eco club with his friends. When they’re 18, they’ll build a submarine and pick up plastics from the ocean and turn them into art to sell in a gallery. :)”
A UX Researcher from Manchester explained:
“Think there has been a lot in the media about the use of plastic, guess I just notice it more.”
An Interaction Designer from Ipswich explained:
“I moved to the coast nearly 6 years ago and in that time I’ve seen the devastating effect single use has had on our planet. I have made a conscious effort to reduce mine and my familyâ€™s use of single use plastic.
When shopping we’re trying to buy food that doesnâ€™t use single use plastic as much as possible. We tend not to buy water bottles (even though they are recycled). And generally making our children more aware of these issues.
We have been buying locally made soaps. With the liquid hand soaps we have been buying the big refillable packs. Which again aren’t great, but are better than buying 3 or 4 hand soaps for the house and then binning them.”
A Developer from Bristol explained:
I guess every time I see the amount of plastic we end up discarding or sending to recycling each week I wonder about the impact it might have on nature. How long this plastic will be around and the energy/water involved in recycling it. Sometimes I wonder if it is even really going to be recycled (I read some stories about countries exporting trash to other countries which are scary). So I have thought about what to do to reduce it but I’ve never researched or taken action on it.
Conclusion: even those who said “no” were aware of their use of single use plastics, and on the whole were doing something to reduce their personal use
I’m glad I dug deeper by asking for more detail from respondents. Especially those who’d answered “no”.
Exploring the “why” behind their answers revealed that at least half of those who had replied no to the original poll do actually take steps to either minimise their use of single use plastics, or minimise the impact of their consumption of them.
Only one respondent said they’d actively choose to use single use items over alternatives currently, and only because they felt that the current offerings in market are a poor substitute for many single use plastic items.
In addition to the above conversations I had with respondents to the poll, there were a number of conversations that expanded on the question and people’s answers in the comments on the original Linkedin post. Take a look to read through them: Linkedin poll: Have you ever thought about how you could reduce your use of single use plastics?