University study launched to explore perceptions of plastic amid COVID-19

People are being asked whether COVID-19 has changed their use and perceptions of plastics as part of a new University of Hull study.

The pandemic has seen people turn to protective equipment such as face masks, gloves and gowns – commonly made of plastic – as a way of keeping themselves and their loved ones safe.

Environmental experts, including the University’s Professor Dan Parsons, have recently warned COVID-19 could also have a dramatic effect on the usage and consumption of single-use plastic.

Now, a team at the University have launched a new national online survey to explore the subject, and how the pandemic has altered how people view the use and consumption of plastics across the country.

Dr Charlotte Dean, Lecturer in Education at the University’s School of Education, said: "This research will contribute to the work of the University of Hull's Plastic Collaboratory and will aim to find out whether the public view of plastic has changed during the COVID-19 pandemic period, and if it has, explore what we can do to reassess our relationship with plastic into the future.”

Research has shown that the public view plastics as a serious environmental issue.

Every year, around 12 million tonnes of plastic enters our oceans. By 2050, it is predicted there will be more plastic than fish in the sea.

However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, protective equipment such as face masks, gloves, visors and screens have all become part and parcel of daily life.

The new survey hopes to learn whether peoples’ feelings and opinions towards plastics has been altered, because of its very visible use in saving lives.

Charlotte said: "As well as launching the national survey, we will also be engaging with young people using creative participatory research methods to find out whether their relationship with plastics has changed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Young people will also be involved in the co-creation and dissemination of a wider survey for young people to get involved on both a national and an international level.”

This research will will aim to find out whether the public view of plastic has changed during the COVID-19 pandemic period, and if it has, explore what we can do to reassess our relationship with plastic into the future.

Dr Charlotte Dean

Lecturer in Education

Katie Parsons, from the Department of Geography, Geology and Environment at the University, is also involved in the research.

She said: “The initiative and concept for this research came from the East Riding Voluntary Action Services Youth Group I am working with and their thoughts on how COVID19 is an opportunity to start again with the way in which we interact with the environment.

“The youth group spoke about how the increased use of plastics due to COVID19 was something that worried them. The survey allows us to explore these ideas.”

As well as exploring peoples’ perceptions of plastics, the study will also examine how we dispose of, recycle, reuse or are reducing the consumption of plastics.

The online survey is broken into three parts.

The first section – Values and Principles – includes questions on how important participants think it is for plastics to be recycled.

It also asks how concerned they are about plastic pollution in their local area, globally, and who they think is responsible for reducing single-use plastic consumption.

The second section of the survey is focused on perceptions of plastics.

Participants are asked to share their feelings about plastics both before COVID-19, and in today’s world of living with a pandemic. Questions include whether people feel concerned about the increased use of plastic packaging on food items during the pandemic, and whether they feel plastic has helped keep people safe from the virus.

The final section is titled ‘Behaviour Change,’ and explores whether people – through increased online shopping, takeaways and use of face masks and gloves – have seen a rise in their own plastic consumption due to COVID-19.

The University of Hull recently launched a Plastics Collaboratory, to draw researchers together from across campus to explore the interactions between plastic, people and our natural world.

Comprising of more than 45 academics and PhD students, in fields including health, politics, logistics, chemistry, environmental sciences and education, the Collaboratory is identifying the gaps and leaks in a plastics circular economy, and aims to instigate changes in our use of plastics, from product design to how materials are recycled.

To complete the online survey around plastics and COVID-19, visit

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