100 Plastic Free Communities

As Plastic Free Communities celebrates its 100th approved location and 700th sign-up, we take a look back at the campaign and the growing grassroots movement which is inspiring thousands of businesses, community groups and individuals across the UK.

Whether onshore or inland, low tide or high rise, hundreds of communities are using our five-point plan to start reducing single-use plastic where they live. It’s a journey which isn’t completed overnight … but one that has sparked a wave of positive change.


Where it all began

Plastic Free Coastlines was born in the summer of 2017 with the launch of the SAS Wasteland campaign. Highlighting ocean plastic pollution as one of the biggest global environmental threats of our age, it called for a powerful community response.  Communities were asked to ‘Join the Resistance’ and to take action onsingle-use plastic and throwaway culture.

Even more importantly, Plastic Free Coastlines provided detailed individual action plans and community toolkits to tackle single-use plastics at source, with an upstream plastic pollution prevention plan. The target: 125 communities working on the plan by 2020.

Little did we know that a much bigger community revolution was being born.


The First Trail Blazers

The Plastic Free Coastlines Community Toolkit contains five objectives which a community has to achieve in order to be awarded Plastic Free Communities status. These are:

  • Local Council resolves to take action itself and support local plastic free initiatives
  • Set target of local businesses remove at least three single use plastic items
  • Community groups, schools and spaces take action and help spread the word
  • Take action and raise awareness through inclusive community events
  • Set up a steering group to achieve accreditation and build on the initial five steps

Within months, the first Plastic Free Coastlines Approved locations were being announced. Penzance was the first in Dec 2017 … followed by Alderney, Aberporth, Tynemouth and Perranporth. All this, in the immediate aftermath of Blue Planet. The UK was waking up to plastic pollution and here was a community plan that showed us exactly how to do something about it.


Plastic Free Communities is Born

With a growing movement came a developing campaign. Plastic Free Coastlines affect inland communities as much as coastal, and so a new Community Manifesto was created to help highlight the link between plastic consumption wherever we live in the UK and ocean pollution. Plastic Free Communities was born. With locations from the Isle of Arran to central London, the Home Counties to the Welsh mountains signing up, a truly UK wide movement was building.

The Plastic Free Communities campaign aims to empower communities so alongside its growth a host of resources and toolkits where created to inspire and enable anyone to take part and spark change where they live.

Plastic Free Pioneers

Communities come in all forms and sizes and soon universities and other organisations wanted to be able to start their own journeys,. Using adapted versions of the Community Toolkit, Aberystwyth Uni became the first accredited university and the Met Office in Exeter also put in place new policy and procedures around single-use plastic.

In June 2019 Canary Wharf became the world’s first Commercial Centre to achieve a plastic free accreditation. Zoopla followed in September 2019 helping provide a blueprint for office-based environments across the UK to take simple actions with big results. In numbers:

At Zoopla:

  • 600 employees signed a Plastic Pledge
  • Single use plastic use reduced by up to 65%.
  • A million single-use plastic items eliminated by reducing or swapping out
  • 43,200 plastic water bottles eliminated alone, as a result of an office ban

At Canary Wharf:

  • 2 million+ items of avoidable single-use plastic were eliminated
  • 4 million coffee cups recycled
  • 100,000+ water bottles reused
  • A new sea bin collects 30kg of plastic a month from the waterways

100 Plastic Free Communities … and counting

In January 2020 we accredited our 100th Plastic Free Community. Leamington & Warwick was set up in 2017, after being inspired by the first communities to gain Plastic Free status. Working with businesses, community groups, schools, developing a plastics plan with the local council and also helping local flagship events go plastic free, the towns were a shining example of what can be done to activate and inspire people to make change.

Despite the arrival of Covid in our communities we have accredited another dozen since January and in July 2020 had our 700th sign up to the Plastic Free Communities program! We wish Plastic Free Thornton-Cleveleys the best of luck as they set out on their Plastic Free Journey to kick the addiction to single use plastics.

So how are things looking across the rest of the country right now? Here’s how the numbers stack up:

  • 718 Communities signed up
  • 114 Communities Accredited
  • 3520 Accredited Plastic Free Champion Businesses
  • 2585 Community Allies
  • 1407 Community Events

2030 Vision

The ocean needs us more than ever. With just ten years left to save the ocean, SAS begins a new decade of work to intensify our efforts to mobilise volunteers, collect citizen science, influence legislation and diversify campaign efforts.

By 2030, we will inspire ocean activists everywhere to call for:

  • An end to single-use plastic pollution on UK beaches
  • An end to sewage discharges into UK bathing waters.
  • Net-Zero carbon emissions.
  • 30% of global ocean and all UK MPA’s to be highly protected.

This will be borne out through our Plastic Free Communities as we activate the network through more training, national events and grassroots campaigning.

Coronavirus has been a challenging time for many of our Plastic Free Communities, but we have been super inspired and motivated by the momentum they’ve maintained. By supporting communities with info and resources we have stayed connected and engaged. It is vital we don’t slip back on the huge strides made to tackle plastic pollution at source.

Plastic mask floats in water

Feeling inspired? Find your local community here Communities Near Me

Want to go plastic free during Covid? Find out how here

Sign up to lead a community here Plastic Free Communities

See the community toolkit here: Community Toolkit

Get your own Plastic Free Individual Action Plan here

Also check out our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts for the latest events and campaigns you can support.