Penzance, the first ever community in the UK to be awarded ‘Plastic Free’ status by marine conservation charity Surfers Against Sewage, celebrates another year of success despite Covid-19; signing up 20 new Plastic Free Champions in the town and engaging new businesses that are avoiding single use plastic from the get go.
Acknowledging another year of Plastic Free Communities accreditation, Plastic Free Penzance has continued to encourage businesses and individuals to reduce single use plastic during the pandemic, offering guidance and raising awareness of refill and reuse through initiatives such as the national #ContactlessCoffee campaign, a revival of their Simple Swaps series and continuing the popular PackSwap PZ scheme.
Surfers Against Sewage created the initial five step Plastic Free Communities Toolkit to encourage communities to start tackling single use plastic at source. Working with business owners on their day to day environmental impact is a central part of the campaign. Originally only requiring 12 businesses to pledge to cut out three single use plastic items, the initiative in Penzance now boasts the support of 130 local businesses and is now the first community to complete the new SAS post accreditation toolkit, to deepen actions around single-use plastic.
The arrival of Covid-19 was a test of the seaside town’s resolve, but a range of independents proved even more determined to keep their businesses as plastic free as possible. Those such as the Weigh Inn, Archie Browns, The Granary, Harvey’s Butchers, Thornes and the Little Greengrocer stuck to their plastic free principles by continuing to offer refill, reuse and plastic free options. Cafes and restaurants opted for plastic free takeaway packaging and food displays, and continued to offer refill water and coffee; with Waves Cafe Bar and The Frontroom sticking to their ban of single-use coffee cups.
Rachel Gunderson from The Honey Pot said “Remaining plastic-free despite the pandemic requires a little thought and forward planning and a lot of determination to ignore the pressures forced upon us, but it is something that everyone can achieve with the right support. We’ve made sure to encourage staff to wear reusable fabric masks, we buy sanitiser in large refill packs and top up ceramic bottles we can wipe clean and have even moved away from individual menus.”
It’s not only existing businesses that are making a stand. New start-ups are deciding to make their business single use plastic free from the very start, such as ‘Beige Doughnuts’ created by foodie Jessica Davies.
She said “Sustainability has been at the core of my business ethos since the beginning. Adopting a vegan lifestyle 8 years ago and starting a vegan business last year, for me was not just about the animals, but also about the devastating effects that animal agriculture is having on the planet. As well as my passion for veganism, I also wanted to make sure that plastic use was kept to a minimum and have been finding ways to make this work day to day.”
Research shows the pandemic has seen a rise in single-use waste, with some refill schemes being paused and single-use masks produced and sold in their billions. It was apparent that there was a marked increase in single use plastic pollution on streets and beaches, leading to the team working with Cornwall Council to try and push forward on-street recycling points as well as adding more bins along the coast path at Long Rock and Eastern Green.
The unnecessary explosion in single use plastic has also led Plastic Free PZ to up its calls for more refill points across the town. As a result ‘Refill PZ’ will launch in the New Year, thanks to funding from the Town Council, highlighting water and coffee refill points as well as where people can refill dried goods, cleaning products, bathroom products and much more.
Plastic Free PZ Community Lead Rachel Yates, said “At no point has refill been banned during the pandemic, so it was important for us to let people know that and to reassure them that refill and reuse are safe. We’ve been so touched by the community’s determination to do what it can to avoid reverting to single use plastic.
“There was an understandable knee jerk, given we’ve all been convinced plastic is the only option. But we want to say a massive thank you to all of those people, businesses and schools who looked into the situation and saw that there are alternatives, which don’t lead to masses of plastic pollution.”
Armed with the slogan that Covid is ‘No Excuse for Single Use’, Plastic Free Penzance have also ramped up efforts to engage the community. Not only have they organised socially distanced beach cleans and helped gather evidence for Surfers Against Sewage on the brand names polluting the town, they’ve used social media to encourage people to opt for reusable face masks and shared valuable information – via a local directory – on businesses who continue to be Plastic Free Champions, even during the pandemic.
Not letting 2020 hold them back, the team are now engaging with MP Derek Thomas on The Plastic Pollution Bill, which is due its second reading in early 2021.
Mr Thomas said: “Despite all the restrictions we’ve been under this year, Plastic Free Penzance has maintained its momentum and managed to keep people involved in the vital job of reducing our use of plastic. They have continued to hold well-attended street and beach cleans (bravely combining them with a bracing sea swim on occasion), run an innovative Packswap scheme to help re-use plastic packaging and promote a number of campaigns through their informative Facebook page.
The group is also very good at keeping up engagement with town bodies like the Town Council and the town’s Placeshaping group, which all help to ensure that the Plastic Free ideal is kept at the forefront of the conversation.”
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Surfers Against Sewage: Plastic Free Communities
Plastic Free Communities exist to free where we live from single-use. They bring people together on a journey to tackle avoidable throwaway plastic, from the beach all the way back to the businesses and brands who create it. It’s not about removing all plastic from our lives. It’s about kicking our addiction to throwaway single-use plastic, and changing the system that produces it.
Join us and let’s free where we live from single-use, one plastic bottle at a time