The majority (54%) of small retailers have seen sales of plastic-packaged goods fall over the last six months, as a growing number of customers request package-free products, according to a new survey.

The poll of nearly 300 small retailers revealed that 49% of respondents said the number of shoppers requesting products without packaging has increased over the last six months, while 23% reported growth in those requesting products with plastic-free packaging.

Over a third (36%) reported that consumers are now buying more unwrapped goods and using their own bags or containers to transport them, the Paymentsense research revealed.

Sales of fruit and vegetables wrapped in plastic are most commonly highlighted as in decline (44%), closely followed by fruit juice and water in plastic bottles.

Over four in 10 (41%) said they have started stocking unpacked or loose goods as well as introduced new lines with plastic-free packaging in the last six months. Almost a third (30%) are also now recycling more, and a quarter (25%) no longer sell drinks with built-in plastic straws.

Guy Moreve, chief marketing officer at Paymentsense, said: “Our study shows how changing consumer behaviour is starting to have an impact on the UK’s small retailers. It’s clear that in recent years public awareness has deepened around the issue, and pressure to reduce or eliminate plastics from products and packaging has grown significantly.

“Movements like the UK Plastics pact are really gaining traction, as businesses and industry work towards a more circular approach to protect the environment.”

Meanwhile, a BBC-commissioned survey has highlighted consumers’ confusion over recycling owing to inconsistent local authority collections. Its analysis found there were 39 different sets of council rules for what can be put in plastic recycling collections.

The ComRes poll also revealed that 47% of people argue at home about what should and shouldn’t go in plastic recycling.

Small retailers’ consumer blacklist:

  • Fruit and vegetables wrapped in plastic (highlighted as down by 44% of small retailers)
  • Fruit juice in plastic bottles (43%)
  • Water in plastic bottles (39%)
  • Plastic cutlery (26%)
  • Plastic straws (26%)
  • Drinks sold with plastic straws (25%)
  • Soft drinks in plastic bottles (24%)
  • Tea bags (23%)
  • Cling film (17%)
  • Frozen food with plastic packaging (14%)

*Data from 291 small UK retail businesses. Research took place in July 2018.