A report from the University of Exeter has found that the Plastic Free Penzance campaign is reducing single-use plastic in the town and is making headway in changing attitudes and behaviour to help protect the environment. The grassroots community group will use the findings to continue its work to tackle plastic pollution and help create a more sustainable town.
An impact report on work in Penzance to reduce single-use, disposable plastic has found that local businesses and the public are taking action, making a positive difference to the amount of single-use plastic being given out in the town as well as changing the way consumers buy and use plastic.
The findings of the report, carried out within the College of Life and Environmental Sciences at Exeter University, were the result of two online surveys; the first was sent to local Plastic Free Business Champions and the second was a public survey distributed via social media. The purpose was to gather evidence to see whether the first year of action by the local volunteer group was making a difference.
Champion businesses said they had made a host of changes with a significant reduction of plastic and the introduction of reusables. The survey found that in these businesses plastic carriers bags have reduced by 84%, plastic straws by 99%, disposable coffee cups by 51% and plastic cutlery by 15%. Plastic on the go food containers were down by 99%.
Businesses also indicated that they had made efforts to conserve energy (21.7%), recycle more (22.5%), and encouraged their staff to engage in more sustainable practices such as bringing their own water bottles (18.8%), coffee cups (15.2%), and packed lunches (10.1%)
Almost 80% of champion businesses said they had put pressure on suppliers to reduce plastic packaging, with many reducing unnecessary packaging or replacing it with a sustainable alternative as a result. Other businesses said they have seen the range and availability of alternative packaging increase and the price fall.
Emily Kavanagh who runs Plastic Free Champion ‘Pure Nuff Stuff’ said the mood is changing:
“In the past year, discussions with my bottle supplier have gone from them being, I’ll be honest, somewhat patronising and dismissive, to taking my suggestions and opinions seriously. Having attempted to palm me off with some bio-plastic, greenwash alternatives at first, they then listened to why that isn’t going to be acceptable. I’ve spent a year impressing on them that I’d pay more for the right product (and convincing them I’d not be alone), they’re now actively attempting to source fully compostable packaging that will hold water based formulations”
Other headline stats for businesses show:
- Almost 90% of businesses felt customers reacted very positively or positively to their business taking action on plastic
- 88% strongly agreed or agreed that Plastic Free PZ was successfully raising awareness of plastic pollution
- 77% said becoming a champion had made them more environmentally conscious
Finally the survey asked champion businesses what advice they would give to other businesses who are yet to change practice. Many respondents advised peers to “just do it” or “sign up” … others recommended fellow businesses consider their environmental impact and reassured them that it only takes a few simple steps to initiate change.
Respondents added that the benefits to the environment outweighed any costs incurred. In fact, failing to change was cited as having a negative economic impact, due to the changing public consciousness and growing consensus about marine plastics and global climate change.
Community responses were equally positive, particularly when it came to individual choices. 95% of those who took part said Plastic Free Penzance had motivated them to make changes. The top five changes were:
- Refuse Carrier bags – 22%
- Bought a refill drinks bottle – 21.8
- Refuse straws in drinks – 19.5%
- Avoiding single use plastic in general – 17.8%
- Shopping local to support the town and plastic free initiatives – 19%
One of the most encouraging stats in the report was that six in ten parents said their children had asked them to make a change at home … 82% of those parents had gone on to make that change.
In summary the report said:
“The findings of this report have demonstrated that (champion) businesses in Penzance have significantly reduced their plastic use. The uptake of alternatives has been substantial and the response from the public has been positive. There has been widespread change from individuals and businesses. The advent of Mass Unwraps and pressure from businesses is pushing toward change on multiple levels. Beach cleans, which protect the ocean and marine wildlife, have become commonplace. Plastic Free Penzance is an example of what communities can achieve through collective action and may inspire others to do the same.”
Penzance based MA student Andrew Palmer put the impact report together as part of a work-based learning module and said:
“Working with Plastic Free Penzance to produce the 2018/19 impact report was both fascinating and inspiring. What stood out to me from the respondents and my interactions with the Plastic Free Champions was the sense of collective determination to make positive change within and beyond the local community. Businesses and individuals demonstrated a feeling of responsibility to reduce the reliance on plastics and other harmful materials, which was facilitated and encouraged by Plastic Free Penzance’s many campaigns and actions.”
Penzance Town Council made a resolution to support the Plastic Free Penzance campaign and continues to help the volunteer group get projects off the ground. Councillor Jonathan How sits on the steering group for the council, and said:
“As a coastal town Penzance is all too aware of the unintended consequences of single-use plastics. They wash up on the beach everyday. But cleaning up our own backyard is only a temporary solution when new deliveries from everybody else’s backyard arrive with every new tide! What’s particularly gratifying in the report is that nearly 80% of businesses stated that they had put pressure on suppliers – many with quite positive outcomes. This means that Plastic Free Penzance is having an impact on a much bigger stage.”
The findings of the report will now be used to help the group build on its five objectives and the satellite projects it is working on, such as the local PackSwap PZ scheme, on-street recycling facilities, public water refill points and a ‘shop local’ campaign to highlight Refill facilities in the town, for everything from hot drinks to the weekly food shop and bathroom & cleaning products.
Plastic Free Penzance Community Lead Rachel Yates said:
“No report is ever perfect, but we are really encouraged by the results of the surveys which were carried out. They show that business and individual action CAN make a difference and we hope that this report will encourage more people to get in touch and get involved. We offer business advice and clinics as well as community advice and we work hard to get projects off the ground, which will enable people in the town to make more sustainable choices.
“We can now use these results to inform our plan of action for the coming year … not just with businesses but with our community projects, schools, awareness events and inspiring our lovely town to keep on. We will not eliminate single-use plastic overnight, but these findings show we are heading in the right direction.”
All community enquiries can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org