UK Communities call for #LessPlasticPlease as Mass Unwrap Gets Underway

Surfers Against Sewage is calling on communities to make a stand against pointless plastic packaging during a Nationwide Mass Unwrap. Volunteers across the country have been organising events to help shoppers hand avoidable plastic straight back to the supermarkets. This year’s action will also gather evidence of customers’ top plastic pet-hates, to feed back to government and industry and call for action, now. 

Mass Unwraps are awesome, fun and high impact actions, that show the sheer scale of plastic packaging used by supermarkets and puts pressure on them from community level, to change. The non-confrontational and family-friendly events are not designed to be disruptive, but pose a unique opportunity for consumers to be able to raise awareness of excess packaging and visually call out the problem.

Credit: Adj Brown


Research shows that 59 billion pieces of plastic packaging are distributed by the supermarkets every year, that’s 112 thousand pieces each minute!* The total plastic packaging used by the UK’s biggest supermarkets rose from an estimated 886,000 tonnes in 2017 to 903,000 tonnes in 2018 ** In 2019 SAS Mass Unwrap events collected up to nine pieces of unwanted plastic a minute. In one case at Tesco in Braunton, North Devon 1,660 items were handed back; it’s estimated less than 10% of the plastic packaging could be recycled.

In 2020 Surfers Against Sewage are increasing the impact of Mass Unwrap and drawing on grassroots community action to help inform its campaigns to stop plastic pollution at source. One of the marine conservation charity’s goals is to stop plastic pollution on UK beaches by 2030, and a defining moment in achieving this has to be a robust and effective Environment Bill. As the Bill gets its second reading in parliament, the charity is calling for more emphasis on the reduction of packaging waste, rather than a focus on recycling and single-use product innovation.

Amy Slack, SAS Campaigns and Policy Manager, said:

“As we exit the EU, we have the opportunity to put in place ambitious and world leading environmental legislation. We must insure that we put in place policy that focuses on the reduction of plastic packaging that truly tackles the scourge of plastic pollution.”

In the UK the burden of plastic waste is put onto consumers, taxpayers, and ultimately the environment as businesses contribute just 10% of the end-of-life disposal costs of their product and packaging. Surfers Against Sewage is also calling for supermarkets to be part of the solution and calls for them to:

  1. Cut out avoidable single-use plastic and redesign packaging
  2. Implement refill solutions
  3. Use recycled content & stop using virgin plastic
  4. Take responsibility and invest in proven systems technology such as an ‘all-in’ deposit return schemes for drinks containers.

After the success of the 2019 National Mass Unwrap launch involving SAS Plastic Free Community Leads, SAS have rolled the event out so anyone can take part, wherever they live. To kick-start this new wave of community action, a week long National Mass Unwrap is being held between 22nd February and 1st March 2020.

Shoppers will also be able to take part in a Citizen Science survey on what they think are the top pointless plastic items in supermarkets, calling for #LessPlasticPlease and contributing evidence to SAS campaigns.

Rachel Yates, SAS Plastic Free Communities Project Officer, said:

“All the main supermarkets have made pledges to cut single-use plastic and many are on track to hit initial aims, such as banning black plastic, by 2020. But we are all still faced with a sea of throwaway plastic every time we enter a store, from shrink-wrapped coconuts to plastic toy giveaways. Mass Unwrap is a chance for customers and their communities to send a strong message to supermarket bosses that more change is needed… and faster.”

Amy Slack added:

“Retailers have a massive part to play in stemming the flow of single-use plastic and pointless packaging. Our supermarkets in particular can be hugely influential both in their own brand products and by putting pressure on their supply chains.

“By taking part in a Mass Unwrap, you can help highlight where action is still needed to reduce packaging in our supermarkets by telling us your Pointless Plastic Pet Hates and helping us call for #LessPlasticPlease”

Here’s how you can get involved:

  1. As an organiser – set up your own Mass Unwrap event with our step by step guide. Click here to find out more
  2. As a shopper – click here to find your local Mass Unwrap event. Shop as normal during the event, pay and smile at the tills, then look for a volunteer who will help you remove unnecessary plastic packaging and take part in our Citizen Science project

Mass Unwrap is part of Surfers Against Sewage’s award-winning Plastic Free Communities campaign to free where we live from avoidable single-use plastic, which is now active in more than 660 communities across the UK.

For more info on Plastic Free Communities click here:

*Stats: Environmental Investigation Agency/Greenpeace ‘Checking Out on Plastics’ report 2018

** Stats: Environmental Investigation Agency/Greenpeace ‘Checking Out on Plastics’ report 2019