Portsmouth has joined a network of communities across the UK who are leading the way to tackle throw away plastic at source. The city has been awarded Plastic Free Community status by marine conservation charity, Surfers Against Sewage (SAS), in recognition of the work it has done to start reducing the impact of single-use plastic on the environment.
Photo credit: Paul Van Herck
Local environmentalist, Clare Seek started the campaign in 2018 after reducing single-use plastic in her own household. Friends and neighbours were constantly asking for tips after following her blog, and the campaign seemed a great way to take it to the next level. With support from local Councillor, Will Purvis, who initiated a resolution to Full Council, and Clare’s two children making deputations at the meeting, there was unanimous agreement to take this forward as a city.
Registering with the SAS Plastic Free Communities movement, Clare pulled together key organisations and businesses in the city to put in place a five-point plan. The objectives include; setting up a community led steering group, instigating the SAS Plastic Free Schools education programme, getting local council commitment and working with local businesses, organisations and community groups to spread the word and minimise the amount of disposable plastics they use.
“It’s been great to see growth in the city’s passion for reducing single-use plastic over the past couple of years,” says Clare. “There has been a real breadth of effort from collecting litter and preventing it getting into our sea, through to education, changing habits and research into future solutions and stemming the flow at source.
“Community groups like Southsea Beachwatch are great at mobilising volunteers to clean our beaches, and we’ve seen a noticeable increase in public involvement at these events, as well as people taking the initiative and litter picking their local parks and streets.
“Small independents like Southsea Coffee and FEED have changed how they provide delicious food and drink to customers, reducing plastic waste by removing plastic cutlery, straws and takeaway packaging. We’ve also got new businesses emerging such as Package Free Larder which provides ways for people to buy food without needless packaging.
“But it’s not just the food and drink businesses that have embraced change. We’ve also seen bookshops, B&Bs, florists and tourist attractions rising to the challenge, each exploring different ways to package, display and promote their products and services, whilst treading more lightly on our planet. They’ve also been sharing their stories via our social media posts and are all listed on our website so that others can contact them to find out how they might start making changes.
“Across the city, we’ve seen nurseries changing craft supplies, eliminating plastic aprons and gloves; school pupils signing up to the Plastic Free Schools programme and organising litter picks, planning lunch boxes without single-use plastic and writing letters to supermarkets asking for change. Our University has a major new focus ‘Revolution Plastics’ which looks to transform the way we make, use and dispose of plastic, as well as making strides in reducing plastic usage on campus, especially in the catering team and with the large student population. And organisations such as Just One Ocean and Jetsam Tech are leading citizen science projects to understand more about the issues we face around micro-plastics and plastic waste on our beaches, to help identify where further change is needed.
“We’ve also linked up with Final Straw Foundation and put pressure on external event organisations to make changes, such as the Great South Run, who started to reduce plastic used at the water stops and put in better recycling systems. And the City Council have introduced more recycling options, water refill stations and messaging on the busy Common and sea front.
“Local artists have really helped get the message out with Pete Codling’s Treadgold Fish touring the city, and Neal Layton’s book ‘A Planet Full of Plastic’, which has now been translated into Chinese, French, German and Italian and is a firm favourite for teachers and children in schools across the country.
Of course, this is just the start of the journey, but with so many individuals and organisations working together to imagine a different future for our planet, it’s great to have gained this recognition from Surfers Against Sewage of the effort put in to date. Hopefully it will continue to inspire change here and in other communities across the country. We aren’t perfect, but sharing stories on how to do things differently, challenging Governments and manufacturers, researching and education are all great steps that we’ll continue to take as a community. I’m really proud of what our city is achieving!” said Clare.
The Surfers Against Sewage Plastic Free Community network aims to free the places where we live from single-use plastics. Using the five point plan the aim is to empower communities to kick start local grassroots action, which can then be built upon.
The marine conservation charity, based in St Agnes in Cornwall, says it wants to unite communities to tackle avoidable plastic from the beach all the way back to the brands and businesses who create it. It says it is not about removing all plastic from our lives, but kicking our addiction to throwaway plastic and changing the system that produces it.
Rachel Yates, SAS Plastic Free Communities Project Manager, said: “It’s great to see the work that Portsmouth has done to reduce the availability of avoidable plastics, raise awareness and encourage people to refill and reuse.
“We have over six hundred communities across the UK working to reduce single use plastic and the impact it has on our environment. Every step those communities and the individuals in them take is a step towards tackling the problem at source, challenging our throwaway culture and encouraging the habit and system changes we need to see.”