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Cities come bottom of the recycling pile

  • Brits living in towns and cities adopt fewer everyday green habits than rural dwellers according to new research 
  • Nearly two thirds (63%) of rural dwellers believe it’s our individual responsibility to address climate change – compared to just half (50%) of those living in urban areas
  • However, urbanites are quicker at adopting green technologies such as Electric Vehicles, Green Tariffs and Smart Home Tech. Half (49%) of the UK’s pure EV owners are based in London.

The poll of over 3,000 Brits for the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) found people living in villages and hamlets typically adopt more everyday green habits compared to those residing in cities and towns. 

90% of rural dwellers recycle their plastic (versus 71% of urbanites), 56% recycle food waste (versus 44%) and 94% take their own bags to shops (versus 81%).

According to the findings, rural regions also shoulder more environmental responsibility with nearly two thirds (63%) believing it’s up to the individual to address climate change – compared to just half (50%) of those living in urban areas.

However, when it comes to green tech, the cosmopolitan cohort takes the reins. Almost half (45%) of urban residents have implemented green tariffs, versus less than a third (30%) in rural areas. Urbanites also tend to have a better understanding of and be more likely to have installed green technology in their homes. Looking at the technology they knew about, a greater number of urban respondents have fitted solar panels (32% vs 9%), battery storage (41% vs 8%), smart technology/digital assistants (42% vs 17%), heat pumps (36% vs 6%), alternative gas heaters (37% vs 4%).

Proving there is a regional divide when it comes to green attitudes and behaviours, the study found that:


  • Only a third (36%) of Londoners recycle their food waste compared to 86% in Northern Ireland and 80% in Wales
  • Just 68% of Londoners recycle their plastic compared to 91% in Yorkshire and the South West

 Green consumption

  • Three-quarters of Londoners (78%) take their own bags to shops, but this rises to more than 9 in 10 in Wales (95%) and the South West (94%)

Green travel

  • Londoners lead the charge when it comes to electric vehicles with over a third (35%) of EV/Hybrid owners surveyed based in the capital, compared to just 1% in Wales and Northern Ireland Half (49%) of pure EV owners surveyed were also based in London

Green homes

  • East Midlanders tend to have the ‘greenest’ homes in the country when compared to the national average with around half of those aware of the technology having installed battery storage (49% vs 23%), heat pumps (47% vs 19%), smart technology/digital assistances (45% vs 29%) and four in ten with solar panels (38% vs 18%).

IET Sustainability and Climate Change Lead, James Robottom, said: “It’s interesting to see patterns in the way that different areas and regions of the country have adopted environmental practices. Cities have always been tipped as being more progressive which is demonstrated by the fact that people living in urban areas are more likely to adopt green technologies. However, urbanites are less likely to embrace and put more physical day-to-day green habits into practice. 

“It’s clear that more support and advice is needed to level the balance across all areas and ensure that we are all doing more to play our part in making the planet more sustainable. If we are to hit the Government’s net-zero target by 2050 other incentives need to come into play to enable consumers to transition to greener lifestyles.”

“Our survey shows that the public knows that change is needed, and they know what can be done – but they often require practical reasons to make that change. Two of the biggest challenges we face – decarbonising heat and transport – will require changes to be made to our everyday lives. It is essential that people are engaged in the process and can see the benefits of green solutions so that we don’t leave anyone behind."

The research was undertaken in conjunction with a global study which revealed contrasting adoptions of green habits across the world. Americans fall behind overall in the study as just 42% believe we have an individual responsibility to address climate compared to over half (55%) in the UK and almost six-in-ten (59%) in Germany and the UAE.

India (92%) leads the way on most green habits including taking your own bags to shops with the UK close behind (87%) and USA (58%) coming in last. Americans are also least likely to avoid products with unnecessary packaging for environmental reasons (39%) vs half (49%) in the UK and eating locally sourced meat for environmental reasons (27% in the USA vs 37% in the UK). 

To read the full report, please visit:




Notes to Editor

The research was conducted by independent market research agency Opinium on behalf of the IET. Fieldwork was conducted between the 15th July 2020 and 7th August 2020. The survey achieved 3,337 responses in the UK (those aged 18+). Additional surveying was undertaken in Australia (1,000 responses), China (1,000 responses), Germany (1,000 responses), India (1,000 responses), the UAE (400 responses) and the USA (1,000 responses). 

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