The Plastic Free Communities Impact Report: ‘Remarkable’ grassroots action is turning the tide on plastic pollution

  • Plastic Free Chester joins 831 communities in the UK successfully tackling single use plastic
  • An estimated 29.4 million people in the UK live in a community working on the campaign
  • Plastic is being reduced at an estimated rate of 43 million items per year, 67% of which is directly attributable to the campaign
  • 4,590 businesses are enrolled, driving 90% of plastic reduction
  • 230 councils have resolved to reduce plastic usage and support plastic free initiatives
  • An estimated 16,620 people volunteer for the campaign

Having achieved Plastic Free Chester in 2018 although we will review this, we are now supporting the region to achieve Plastic Free Cheshire and we are calling on the community to get behind this local campaign, after a report revealed the nationwide movement is greatly benefiting communities and significantly reducing the reliance on single-use plastics by those involved.

For the first time since its launch, Surfers Against Sewage ( SAS) have delved into the movement to reveal its impact on plastic pollution and how it benefits the communities taking part.

Almost 30 million people across the UK now live in a Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) Plastic Free Community, removing millions of items of plastic pollution every year and tackling the brands and businesses behind it.

Plastic Free Communities is a grassroots campaign that empowers and connects people in a shared journey to free where they live from avoidable, throwaway plastic; from beaches, rivers and green spaces, all the way back to the brands and businesses who create it. They do this through a five-step toolkit to engage with individuals, businesses, schools, councils and other community organisations.

Insley Consulting Ltd undertook an independent evaluation of the campaign in 2021, including the amount of plastic that has been reduced as a result. The ‘Plastic Free Communities: Freeing Where We Live from Single Use Plastic’ report pulls out key stats from the evaluation and looks at the future for the cornerstone SAS campaign.


The research found that Plastic Free Communities are eliminating an estimated 43.3 million single use plastic items per year. 29 million of those items are directly attributable to the campaign. It’s estimated that you could fill a 25-metre swimming pool 14 times by the number of plastic cups and drinks bottles eliminated.

Businesses drove 90% of this plastic reduction and as a result it’s thought the plastic reduction figures may be an under-estimation, given only a proportion of Business Champions responded to the research survey.

“It’s made us think about the single-use items we have in our shop. I thought we were doing well already, and we were, but then listing them out to see what we have has highlighted many more very easy swaps that we can and have since made.”

Survey respondent

Overall, respondents reported a 94% reduction in single-use items they chose to tackle.But the pandemic has without doubt been a challenge, for all involved in the campaign. 47% of individuals and 33% of businesses increased the amount of single-use plastics due to Covid-19; largely because there was no choice in packaging, particularly when shopping online, using PPE for work or in Covid testing kits.

Wider Impact

The campaign has also sparked a wave of new environment and sustainability initiatives across the UK, with 80% of respondents saying they are more aware of local and global environmental issues. Plastic Free Communities were the biggest SAS volunteer cohort to take part in the Brand Audit, submitting evidence of plastic pollution where they live to put pressure on government and industry.

100 communities also collected evidence of plastic pollution as a result of Covid-19 for a research paper from National Geographic and The University of Plymouth, due out this Spring.

There is good evidence the campaign is having a positive impact on community cohesion too. People involved have a greater sense of feeling like they belong in their neighbourhood, 80% said they felt more connected to nature and their local environment, and they are considerably more likely to spend time outdoors than the population in general.

There is also some evidence that the campaign contributes towards a healthy local economy, with

95% of respondents saying they make an effort to use local businesses, and 90% preferring to use businesses who have taken action on becoming plastic free.

Evaluator Emma Insley said:

“Plastic Free Communities have done incredibly well to achieve an excellent environmental and social impact, particularly in the wake of lockdown restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic; it is a remarkable campaign delivered by dedicated local and national environmental activists.”

SAS CEO Hugo Tagholm said:

“I’m so proud of the impact Plastic Free Communities have helped deliver. Whether on the coastline or inland, they truly have delivered Ocean Activism everywhere. We are more than surfers. We are a nationwide community of people driving environmental action through the prism of plastic. Whilst Covid-19 might have brought a new wave of single-use plastic with it in the form of PPE and lateral flow tests, the response has been such an inspiration. Rather than capitulate, our volunteer leads have innovated, re-engineered and mobilised to ensure that we continue to free communities from the scourge of single-use thinking.”

Plastic Free Cheshire is calling on local businesses, schools, groups and families to get involved. Community Leads Christian Dunn & Helen Tandy said, having achieved status for Chester we now want to support other regions in Cheshire and build on what we have learnt over the last 3 years.

You can read the full Plastic Free Communities: Freeing where we live from single-use’ report here

Published by plasticfreenorthener

I’m a partner and Ethical Financial Adviser, I’m Director of Eco Community UK Community Interest Company which I set up to help individuals and businesses be more sustainable.

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