A town with a population of about 2,000 people in Wales has just been officially recognized as a plastic-free community. The citizens of Aberporth have been working hard to get plastic out of their stores and off their beaches, and it definitely required a team effort. Wales Online visited Aberporth to talk to them about the process of getting everyone on board for change, despite the potential extra cost.
The campaign began after a local filmmaker named Gail Tudor returned after a long boat trip around the U.K.'s shores. While on her trip, Tudor became aware of the dangerous rise of ocean plastic. In particular, microplastics. Tiny pieces of plastic do eventually degrade from larger waste items. They're consumed by fish and make it into our food supply chain and even our drinking water. There are even many beauty and cleaning products that deliberately add plastic microbeads for their power as exfoliants or surface cleaners, and those end up in the water, too.
Tudor began approaching people individually and at their business to see if she could drum up interest. She started a Facebook page for the movement in town, so folks could see what was being suggested. It did well.
“I wanted to get people interested,” Tudor told Wales Online. “We set up a steering committee and a Facebook page and approached local businesses. In order to be classed as a ‘plastic-free community’ we had to get three businesses to agree to give up three single-use plastic items. People were quite keen to get on board - a lot of people turned up to our initial meeting and our MP Ben Lake came down to see us and offered his support.”
Then, with perfect timing, the BBC aired Planet Earth II. The series highlighted the microplastic issues, showing how marine animals were suffering under the water. The beach at Aberporth may have seem clean enough to locals, and the ocean's surface impenetrable; but now they had a much bigger picture of what was at stake. Many members of the community say they were spurred on by the local campaign in combination with the documentary.
Local Gethin James explained, “I didn’t know about microbeads and the sheer volume of plastic in the ocean. Once I saw this and the plastic-free group explained the reasoning behind the campaign, that was enough for me to get involved.”
There is a financial burden placed on businesses trying to make the switch. James run a cafe called Cwtch Glanmordy, and much of his business comes from takeaway products. He's switched to wooden utensils, paper straws, and takeaway cups lined with cornstarch instead of plastic—but they're considerable more expensive. James thinks production industries should be updating their standards to exclude plastic, which would gradually reduce the cost of being environmentally conscious for people in businesses like his.
“There should be a levy on plastic products, so the cost is met from there, not at the other end," said James. “This would cause manufacturers to change their whole outlook.”
The town also organizes beach clean ups, and have been encouraging other communities to explore how they can reduce plastic as a group, through legislation and community agreement. It's easier in a place with only 2,000 people, but as James suggests, the more people on board, the more impetus there is for large scale change.