Plastic Free July 2020: The Potential and the Reality

Plastic Free July is a well-established global campaign that encourages consumers to help reduce the amount of plastic waste ending up on streets, beaches, landfills or oceans. Participation can range from simple, individual behaviours that help ‘do your bit’ to much larger-scale efforts that involve a whole community in raising awareness and making a greater difference. Some good examples include:

  • Buying products that are packaging free
  • Switching to reusable bags, cups and bottles
  • Organising beach or street clean ups
  • Running talks and educating others.

Understanding the behavioural science

Although these activities are just temporary for some, for others they can be the first steps to long-lasting behaviour change in what behavioural scientists call a ‘habit loop’. This means that once the ‘cue’ of participating in Plastic Free July has motivated them to swap their previous habits for new environmentally-friendly alternatives, they want to continue to feel ‘rewarded’ by the knowledge that they’re helping to tackle plastic pollution by maintaining their new ‘routine’.

The Habit Loop: Cue-Routine-Reward

Impact of Plastic Free July

According to the campaign’s own statistics, around 250 million people from over 170 countries took part last year. This implies that there’s potential for a huge difference to be made as a result of such large audiences all making small contributions which can add up.

We conducted a self-funded study in the UK1 to find out more about participation in Plastic Free July 2020. We were disappointed that only 10% of those we surveyed were aware of the campaign as this is well below the global figure of 29% that this Australian-based initiative claimed for 2019. The main reasons why people didn’t participate were (in order):

  1. Lack of awareness
  2. There were no events happening near them
  3. They didn’t know how to take part.

More encouragingly, we found that around half (46%) of those who were aware of it actively participated in it. This group’s top three actions (in order) were:

  1. Using reusable shopping bags
  2. Recycling their waste
  3. Avoiding plastic straws or choosing a reusable alternative instead.

Consumer views on packaging and plastic waste

In the latest wave of our Great Green Sustainability Study, we found that a majority of consumers agree that plastic packaging should be banned, and that this proportion is rising too (71% in April 2020, up from 68% in October 2019). We also found that consumers want to make a difference, with 45% avoiding buying single-use plastics and 52% buying products with recyclable packaging.

To find out more about our Great Green Sustainability Study or how Impact can help you with sustainability research, contact Tom Gould, Head of Consumer, on

1. Survey conducted with 351 nationally representative consumers in the UK on 30-31 July 2020.

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