How to rid your town of single-use plastic

In July 2019 Caerphilly (South Wales) was awarded "plastic-free community" status by a marine conservation charity, following the town’s campaign to reduce single-use plastic. So how did they do it?
By Anike Bello    |      Published:  16 Dec 2019    |      2 minute read

The plastic problem

The rate at which we produce and consume levels is suffocating the planet. Traces of it can be found in the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the water we drink, in oceans, rivers and lakes, and even in the air that we breathe. The production process for making plastic is responsible for 5% of greenhouse gas emissions alone, warming the planet and increasing extreme weather conditions.

400 million tonnes of plastic are produced yearly. Of that, 40% is single-use plastic – making it one of the biggest offenders of plastic pollution. These worrying statistics motivated one community to tackle single-use plastic in their area.

Starting a plastic campaign

Plastic Free Caerphilly, a group comprised of local businesses and concerned residents, supported by Caerphilly Friends of the Earth, was born from a public meeting to discuss what could be done to reduce plastic waste in the town of Caerphilly. Within three months a Facebook group was created, followed by a second meeting featuring regional experts who share their insight and experience of running plastic campaigns in their local communities.

During that meeting the group decided to ramp up their ambitions, and aim to affect enough change in the community to merit a "Surfers against Sewage" (SAS) plastic free award. In order to do so they had to hit some concrete targets: set up a community-led steering group; implement the SAS Plastic Free Schools education programme; get local council commitment and work with local businesses, organisations and community groups to spread the word and minimise the use of disposable plastics.

Community involvement – at all levels

The power of the campaign came from including every group in the community.

“We found that it was important to reach out widely in the community and get lots of people involved from different walks of life”, remarks Andrew Price, coordinator of Caerphilly Friends of the Earth.

Children in Caerphilly doing a plastic pick-up
Children in Caerphilly picking up plastic

From businesses to schools, all were brought in to reduce single-use plastic. Many businesses in the Caerphilly area replaced single-use plastic bottles, glasses, cutlery straws and trays with reusable alternatives. Some shops even began offering a free water refill service for customers, in order to discourage the purchase of plastic water bottles.

A litter pick on Caerphilly mountain was organised, as well as a "Big Unwrap" event at Caerphilly Asda where customers were encouraged to unwrap their groceries and return the plastic packaging to the supermarket. Schools also became involved with The Twyn School, Plas y Felin, St James Primary, Ysgol Gymraeg Caerffili, Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg y Castell, Bedwas High School and a host of others attaining plastic-free status. The campaign was given extra momentum through political support: local councillors on Caerphilly Town Council passed a motion in support of Plastic Free Caerphilly’s campaign.

Celebrate success

Just one year on from launching the campaign, Surfers against Sewage officially awarded Caerphilly its plastic free status and a party was held to celebrate the work of all those involved.

"It was a fantastic experience which galvanised local business owners, community groups and local residents around a common cause. It also led to new friendships and projects and was a huge boost to morale and community spirit in the town", notes Andrew.

Caerphilly’s success proves just how powerful community-led action is when tackling climate breakdown.

Inspired by Caerphilly's can-do attitude? See whether there are any groups in your area taking climate action.