A YouGov survey commissioned by environmental charity Keep Britain Tidy and Brita UK found that only 29% of small and medium enterprises in the hospitality and leisure sector have introduced alternatives like reusable cups or metal straws.
The amount of plastic waste generated annually in the UK is estimated to be almost 5m tonnes, according to sustainability organisation WRAP.
Small and medium firms have been reluctant to audit their use of single-use plastics or change suppliers based on how environmentally friendly they are, according to the survey.
Only 22% said they replaced some or all of the single-use plastics staff use with reusable or non-plastic alternatives in the past 12 months.
Just 8% of businesses in the sector said they have used incentives such as purchase discounts to encourage customers to change their behaviour around plastics.
Business leaders reported struggling to find environmentally friendly alternatives that did the same job (71%) and the high costs of sustainable alternatives (67%).
Keep Britain Tidy chief executive Allison Ogden-Newton was keen to stress the charity wanted to help businesses come up with practical solutions rather than shame them for slow progress.
Focus on solutions
She explained: “This research makes for shocking reading but it is not simply about knocking businesses for inaction – it is about understanding the barriers they face and looking to work with them to offer the expertise, support and guidance that will help them transform for good.
“Keep Britain Tidy is a charity focused on developing solutions and, through these solutions, helping businesses tackle the problems of waste, including single-use plastic.
“The public are willing to get out there and do something to clean up the plastic that they see around them – more than half a million volunteers gave their time during the Great British Spring Clean to do just that – and businesses must support the public by playing their part.”
Action from smaller businesses is essential as they account for 99% of all businesses in the UK, she added.
Brita UK managing director Sarah Taylor said smaller businesses had not made changes at the same pace as larger businesses despite consumers’ support.
Taylor said: “The past few years have seen a sea change in our awareness of the impact of single-use plastic on the marine and wider environment.
“It’s been exciting to see so many household name businesses take big steps to reduce their single-use plastic footprint, from providing staff with reusable alternatives, such as reusable water bottles and coffee cups, to trialling refill schemes for customers.
“As a business, this is something Brita has been proud to be a part of. But it’s clear that smaller organisations have not been as confident at making changes, despite what their customers and staff are saying.
“The opportunity for hospitality businesses to make a real change in the industry and appeal to their customers is huge. We encourage SMEs in the sector to come together to find solutions to the challenges posed by single-use plastics.”