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Plastic ranks as Kiwis' top environmental or social concern, new survey reveals

The build-up of plastic in the environment is the top concern of New Zealanders when it comes to environmental and social issues, new research shows.

The latest Colmar Brunton Better Futures report surveyed 1000 New Zealanders in December 2018 on a wide range of environmental and social issues. The findings were released this evening in partnership with the Sustainable Business Council.

The Top 10 environmental and social concerns for New Zealanders are:

- Build-up of plastic in the environment - 72 per cent (up nine points from last year)
- The cost of living - 68 per cent (no change)
- Protection of New Zealand children -  67 per cent (down one point)
- Suicide rates - 67 per cent (up three points)
- Violence in society -  65 per cent (down 4 points)
- Pollution of lakes, rivers, and seas - 64 per cent (up four points)
- Caring for the ageing population - 63 pre cent (new)
- The protection of my personal data online - 62 per cent (new)
- Availability of affordable housing - 61 per cent (up two points)
- Not having access to good, affordable healthcare -  60 per cent (up two points)

For the first time in 10 years, more than half of those surveyed expressed a high level of concern about climate change - 55 per cent, up seven points. 

"The challenge now for Government and businesses alike is to make climate actions as tangible for New Zealanders as reducing plastics," said Sarah Bolger, head of Colmar Brunton.

The survey also found four in 10 New Zealanders are highly committed to living sustainable lifestyles, and five in 10 are somewhat committed.

Eighty-five per cent of New Zealanders said reducing disposable packaging is the right thing to do - but only one per cent of those who buy lunch use reusable containers all the time. 

Thirty-four per cent are thinking about switching to an electric vehicle but 22 per cent probably won't and 27 per cent don't want to switch.

The research also shows 71 per cent of New Zealanders are choosing to buy locally, and 67 per cent are walking for short journeys.

When it comes to plant-based diets, one in 10 New Zealanders are going mostly or completely meat-free, up from seven per cent last year and reflecting a steady increase, the researchers found.

On the subject of employee satisfaction, 86 per cent wanted to work for a company that's socially and environmentally responsible, up 13 points. And 66 per cent agreed they would recommend their work place to others, up 13 points.

But 83 per cent believed the way businesses talk about their social and environmental commitments is confusing, up 11 points from last year to an all-time high. 

Sustainable Business Council Executive Director Abbie Reynolds said consumers continue to be suspicious of greenwashing and businesses need to improve how they communicate with consumers to help them make more sustainable choices.

Plastic rubbish in water. Source: istock.com