Use less plastic

Plastic Free Communities. Credit: Surfers Against Sewage
Many of the reasons we find plastic so incredibly useful – it’s extremely cheap, versatile, waterproof and durable – are what also make it such an environmental hazard. When we throw it away, it doesn’t go away. Instead, it becomes plastic pollution that can alter habitats and natural processes, directly affecting people’s livelihoods and food production.

There is an answer and it’s not recycling.
The Big Plastic Count survey by Greenpeace and fellow NGO, Everyday Plastic, in May 2022 revealed that UK households chuck out nearly 100 billion pieces of plastic every year. Only 12% of the single-use plastic we bring into our homes is properly recycled in the UK, with 17% being exported abroad, 25% sent to landfill and 46% incinerated. That’s because a good two thirds of it is soft, flimsy, low-grade plastic packaging, very little of which is recyclable.

Instead, it will take concerted community action to stem the tide of plastic and move to reduced and sustainable packaging. Plastic Free Communities (PFC) is just such a grassroots campaign, set up by Surfers Against Sewage. Their vision is to connect and empower communities to free our homes, streets, green spaces, rivers and beaches of avoidable, throwaway plastic, and to send a powerful message to the businesses who continue to proliferate its use.

Like the PFC team in Mold, Wales, you could stage a Mass Unwrap in your community, and link with other communities to encourage a local Mass Unwrap movement. At one event in Mold they collected a two-metre-high cage of packaging, after encouraging local shoppers, town and county councillors, local churches and schools to join in.

Shops that minimise the environmental impact of our consumer habits are also springing up across Britain. Over the past two years, well over 100 Zero Waste Shops have opened for business. Many are in environmental hotspots such as Brighton, Bath, Bristol, Stroud and north-east London, but they’re opening in plenty of other areas too.

Is your community plastic free? Is there a Zero Waste Shop near you? If not, could you spearhead a movement locally or set one up, to help reduce plastic consumption and get rid of single use plastic for good?
Stroud District Action on Plastic Stroud District Action on Plastic
Start something new…

You can find lots of practical help in setting up a Plastic Free Community to reduce plastic pollution. And there’s a fantastic knowledge hub here at UKPOS to guide your team in setting up your own Zero Waste Shop. As ocean plastic is a well-documented, serious problem, why not set up a beach clean if you live on the coast to clear up all that plastic waste that gets washed up on shores around the UK? The Marine Conservation Society offers instructions for how to organise your own beach clean - and get other local people involved.

Inspired by doing more with less? Check out lots of great circular economy initiatives.

… or join an existing community project:

You’ll find a list of all the Plastic Free Communities in the UK on the Surfers Against Sewage’s website and these groups are always looking for more members to help, so why not join in? If you live near a beach, chances are there’ll be a beach clean sometime during the year and plastic rubbish always constitutes a high proportion of what’s found. The Marine Conservation Society has a constantly updated list of beach cleans coming up.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to be an expert in sustainability: a whole range of skills is needed to guarantee the success of projects like these and it’ll also be possible to learn as you go.

Other related community actions: Borrow don’t buy, Repair instead of recycle, Slow down fast fashion

What do we mean by community action?
23 community actions