A chat with Plastic Free Penarth

Plastic Free Penarth is a part of Gwyrddio Penarth Greening (GPG), a charity established to support the promotion of environmental issues with a community focus by taking a project based approach to the issues. We were lucky enough to talk to Penarth-resident Susannah McWilliam, who has been involved in environmental issues for a long time, going back to university to study sustainability and environmental policy, about the organisation does and what you can do to get involved in Plastic Free Penarth

Tell a bit more about Plastic Free Penarth, what are its main aims? What are the kinds of things you do for the area?

“We are part of GPG, which is a charity to support the promotion of environmental issues with a community focus by taking a project based approach to the issues and that’s when we were made aware of ‘plastic free communities’.

“In 2019 Penarth achieved it’s plastic free community status. And what’s exciting about it, is it doesn’t just have a positive impact for our community, but it’s also part of almost 900 communities across the UK that are plastic free.

“There’s nothing necessarily special about Plastic Free Penarth, it’s a hub, it’s a way of bringing people together around a shared mission.”

“This campaign isn’t about eliminating all plastic. It’s about trying to eliminate unnecessary single-use plastic. Single-use plastic is all around us and we don’t even recognise it anymore. So the campaign is about getting people to stop and think about the products they’re using and if there’s an alternative they can use.

“Achieving the award of a plastic free community wasn’t a small achievement and it takes a lot of work to get that recognition. It is a bit of a route map of 5 different key things that any community needs to do. There’s a lot of evidence you have to provide;

“One of the first things we had to do was something called working with your local decision maker, so we’ve been connecting with Penarth Town Council who have released their own plastic free commitment. For example, when they’re putting together this year’s Summer Festival, they’re considering the plastic free commitment. It’s brilliant to have them onboard.

“The second this we had to do was something called a business champion. We had to have a number of local businesses who’ve made plastic free commitments, so they have to contribute their own data. We have had 12 different local businesses that have achieved the award; The Crêpe Escape, ener-chi, Fauvette, Foxy’s Deli, Glass by Design, Jo’s Organics, LilyPad Florist, Old Penarthians, Rowley’s the Jewellers, Umpa Lumpa Sweet Shop, Waterloo Tea Rooms and Willmore’s 1938. And we’ve had six more businesses sign up this year.

“The third area is called community allies, which are groups within the community that can make a difference at scale, for examples, schools can get a plastic free award.

“The fourth area is local community actions and events. It’s not just about talking about the issues but actually making and carrying out plans and events such as beach clean ups, local gardening projects or just swapping tips with each other.”

“Every year we push to be better than the year before.”

How can people across Penarth get involved with this?

“We are also looking for any community allies who want to get involved.

“A great starting point for anyone is to have a week’s audit of all the plastic in your life. So, in that week you count all your use of single-use plastic and then have a think about the simple swaps you can make. Some changes are going to be easier than others, so start off with the easier changes to your routine and start from there.

“Another thing, is that if your part of a community group, or school or at your job, ask if there are any changes you can make.”

Do you have a big goals for the future? Projects planned?

“We’ve just connected with Keep Wales Tidy. There’s something very special about connecting with other groups that are doing similar things and used a shared power. So we’re excited to see where that takes us.

“Something we’re putting a lot of energy into is getting schools on board to achieve their plastic free status and that would be an amazing things because schools are educating the younger generations. Kids aren’t just are future but they also have some great ideas. They’re an asset to this campaign.

“We want to celebrate the success of Penarth residents, schools and business. All the great things they’ve achieved in the past few years.

“A bigger goal that we’re aiming towards is getting water refill stations in and around Penarth. That would be amazing for the community and would further encourage the use of refillable bottles. It’s just the little things like that, that can make a big difference.

What got you involved with this organisation?

“I’ve always been interested in my personal footprint on the world. It definitely has something to do with the way I was brought up, my mum reused lots of stuff. There was a household ethos of caring for your possessions and not over-consuming.

“I worked in theatre costume for years in London and I saw so many things being thrown away, instead of repairing them. I was part of GPG for some time before getting back into my studies. I like how this is so community orientated and pulls on so many threads.

“Important to realise that by making these changes, you’re not sacrificing anything, you’re not up the things you love but just swapping those things with more sustainable, eco-friendly options.

“It’s a real journey for some people and it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s starts with simply questioning the daily things you do and how you can make those changes comfortably.”

Some interesting statistics:

  • Over 99% of plastic is made from fossil fuels
  • In the UK, we use almost 40 million single-use plastic bottles every day, and around half of those end up in landfills, burnt or in our environment.
  • In the UK, we use 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups a year and less than 1% of them are recyclable.