Claudi Williams: Kicking The Plastic Habit
Stroud District Action on Plastic is a volunteer group that formed following a public talk I was invited to give about my family's experiment of buying no plastic for a year during 2016. Like us, there were many people locally who were fed up with the amount of single-use plastic in the shops and the general throw-away/buy new premise of products on the market. Many of us were already adding our names to petitions and supporting environmental groups, lobbying government and companies for better environmental practices. But we were frustrated with the slow progress, particularly where plastic was concerned, and wanted to become less reliant on plastic in our own lives.
We learned that, in addition to the problem of plastic litter in the environment, the entire life cycle of plastic generates harmful greenhouse gas emissions that are a threat to the climate and to human health. A new report estimates that, if the entire lifecycle of plastic were a country, it would be the fifth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world. In fact, plastic adds more than 850 million metric tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere in a single year, equivalent to 189 new 500-megawatt coal-fired power plants.
Our group started by signing up cafes and restaurants in our high street to offer free tap water refills to reduce the need for plastic bottles. We also asked the town council to install a drinking water fountain in the park next to the high street.
Interest in our group grew and attracted funding which enabled us to employ a part-time project coordinator. We began working towards becoming a plastic-free community, based on Surfers Against Sewage's excellent community accreditation scheme. We produced a comprehensive website to help local people start their own plastic-free journey. The website lists recycling schemes, repair cafes, local markets and plastic free shopping opportunities locally and online, as well as how-to-guides for anyone starting off on their plastic-free journey.
We signed up local businesses to eliminate single-use plastic from their operations, talked to schools, colleges and clubs about moving away from single-use plastic in their canteens, organised workshops and demos on how to make basic cleaning products and toiletries, and organised educational film screenings to highlight the problems of plastic pollution. Our local MP signed a plastic pledge and Stroud District Council passed a motion to eliminate single-use plastic from their operations.
All this hard work was rewarded in 2020 when we became one of the first districts in the UK to receive Surfers Against Sewage’s Plastic-free Community status. It doesn’t mean that this area is plastic-free, it’s a recognition that we’ve got the key organisations involved and are making good progress towards kicking our addiction to throwaway plastic.
The benefits to the community of this type of initiative can be enormous. In addition to sharing knowledge and resources - for example tool and toy libraries, clothes swaps, or repair cafés - it supports local producers and individual shops who can offer local, seasonal food that is unpackaged and has not travelled half-way around the globe.
My advice to anyone wanting to start a similar project in their own community would be to look at the Plastic Free Community scheme and also check out our website for advice on how to get started on reducing your plastic footprint at home, the workplace, at school or in the community.
We were very thrilled recently to learn that Stroud District Action on Plastic has been given the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service. Without all the wonderful volunteers who tirelessly and generously give their time and skills, we wouldn’t have achieved what we have and have plans for more!
Claudi Williams is the Chair of Stroud District Action On Plastic.