Plastic Free Businesses Lead the Way

Across the UK hundreds of local businesses are becoming Surfers Against Sewage ‘Plastic Free Champions’, as they work to free themselves from avoidable throw-away plastic.

Photo of Saropi Di Sole cafe

As the SAS Plastic Free Communities movement takes hold across the UK, local small and medium size businesses are rising to the challenge of removing avoidable single-use plastic. Focusing on things like plastic bottles, disposable coffee cups, food packaging, straws, balloons and bathroom plastics these independents are driving the change we need to see on our high streets to stem the plastic tide at source.

Using the SAS Business Toolkit to start their journey, almost seven hundred businesses have now achieved the Plastic Free Champion award, with hundreds more working towards it.

We’ve been hugely impressed by their ideas; businesses are not just scratching the surface. They are demonstrating a commitment to real and effective change, helping bring about a shift in our buying and lifestyle habits.

For example, deli ‘Saropi Di Sole’ in Moseley, Birmingham started a mug exchange for local workers wanting takeaway coffee. Owner Efua told us: ““This mini-revolution is creating a sense of community and togetherness. We have a group of dedicated customers who take great delight in taking our mugs away and bringing them back. It is re-use at its best!”

Photo of Wave Café Bar

Some cafés have gone as far as banning disposable coffee cups outright! Wave’s Café Bar in Penzance was one of the first and will only sell takeaway drinks in refill cups. Owner Paul said: “We’ve had an overwhelming response from locals and visitors alike and have seen a marked increase in the use of reusable cups. Our 20% discount on takeaway drinks goes some way to take the sting out of the initial cost of a reusable cup too”

Cafes are not the only businesses making bold moves. Butcher Tom Samways in Cardigan has swapped to wrapping meat in paper and encourages customers to refill tubs from home. He told us: “You don’t realise how much plastic you are using until you stop. It’s been brilliant for business. People are more conscious now and they’re concerned. The shop is busier for it; people are coming to us because we offer it”

Other businesses where shunning single-use plastic could be seen as a challenge are the UK’s thousands of Fish and Chip shops. But up and down the land they are finding ways to reduce impact, from providing sauce dispensers and putting meals in cardboard boxes to banning plastic drinks bottles. Leigh runs Pantrini’s in Whitley Bay: “To sit back and do nothing would be ridiculous. We have a beautiful coastline here, which we are very proud of. The more we can do to help protect that, the better and by making these little changes we will see a huge difference.”

It isn’t just food and drink outlets making a stand on single use. Solicitors’ offices, estate agents, jewellers, galleries and holiday providers are all getting involved. The Southcroft Guest House in Eastbourne has set the bar high as it embraces refill. Water is provided in refillable glass bottles, toiletries are provided on a refill basis – they even refill cleaning products! That’s alongside a host of other plastic free measures including sharing tips and information with guests. Owner Steve said: “Following on from the BBC’s Blue Planet series, we decided to look into practical ways to reduce the use of plastics. The reaction from guests has been positive and we are continually trying to source produce that doesn’t use non-recyclable plastic.”

Photo of Refill store

Then there are the ‘uber’ refill champions; the pioneers across the UK setting up ‘Refill’ shops. We visited one in Truro where you can get everything from toothpaste tabs and shampoo bars to pasta, flour and breakfast cereal. Assistant Ellie told us shoppers love it: “They say it brings them back to the old days of Weigh and Save shops, but it’s definitely the future! We’ve worked really hard to be competitive with supermarkets and I think everyone is going to cotton on to it. These shops are already opening up everywhere, which is amazing.”

Our Plastic Free Champions are instigating a sea change on our high streets … and they are passing that momentum up the chain. Many, taking what action they can on a local level, are tackling the packaging which comes through the door from suppliers. They’re setting up packaging swaps, asking for alternatives and in some cases refusing to order again unless things change. Hobbs Kitchen Shop in Penzance recently won an Excellence in Housewares Award for its successful campaign. Manager Penny said: “I wrote an email to all of our suppliers and all of our orders now include a request to reduce plastic. That could be by using recycled paper or cardboard or things like paper and wire twisters instead of cable ties. My hope is that everyone puts pressure on suppliers and manufacturers to find alternatives.”

So how do you become part of this amazing community groundswell? Well the great news is that you don’t have to be part of an existing Plastic Free Community. Just drop us an email on [email protected] and we’ll send a business toolkit to kick start your journey and achieve our brand new Plastic Free Champion plaque and certificate!

Your action could encourage others in your area to do the same. It could lead to your whole community taking action! Together we can kick our addiction to single-use plastic and change the system that produces it.

Find out more about Plastic Free Communities here: