STROUD District has joined a network of communities across the UK who are leading the way to tackle throw away plastic at source.

Stroud is one of the first few districts to have 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.

Action group leader Claudi Williams started the local campaign back in 2017 after an experience on holiday in the Mediterranean: she and her family found themselves surrounded by so much plastic waste, she likened it to floating in a plastic soup.

Coming home, Claudi wanted to raise awareness of the polluting impacts of the plastics life cycle – in particular, single use plastics, which have only a brief useful life but a long environmental impact.

Joining up with other interested local campaigners, businesses and councillors, she was motivated to help individuals, businesses and institutions across the community to reduce their plastic footprint.

In July 2019, Stroud District Action on Plastic (SDAP) was formally launched.

In registering with the SAS Plastic Free Communities movement, Claudi and the SDAP team have pulled together key organisations and businesses across the district to put in place a five-point plan.

The objectives included: 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.

SDAP has organised and attended over 30 public events to promote the cause and involve the community, including talks, litter picks, film screenings, fairs and workshops on how to reduce the plastic coming into the home.

The group has also worked with several of Stroud’s festival teams to help run the town’s annual events plastic free.

Claudi said: “Perhaps it should come as no surprise that the Stroud district community has responded so well to this challenge: people are increasingly aware of the damaging impact of the plastics cycle on our climate and our environment, and they are looking for ways to live without the need for it.

"So often, the solutions to this issue are also beneficial to the local economy, so the district only stands to gain from this shift towards a lower waste, more sustainable way of living.”

The group has also partnered with businesses across the district, from our largest employers such as Renishaw plc, Ecotricity and SGS College, to some of our most popular pubs and restaurants, market stalls and high street retailers.

All of them have worked in reducing the disposable plastic in their operations, from the way they package their product to the way they buy their staff room coffee.

Project coordinator Chloe Turner said: “To achieve this accreditation, we’ve worked closely with more than thirty small businesses across the district, who’ve successfully taken on the challenge to reduce their plastic footprint and been recognised as Plastic Free Champions as a result. So many have gone beyond what was asked of them, making changes to reduce plastic right across their premises and supply chain, and we have loved celebrating their successes.”

Earlier this year, SDAP also helped Wotton-under-Edge Chamber of Trade put in place a ‘plastic pledge’ for its members to sign up to, and the group hopes to do the same with other chambers across the district.

James Millar, Business Engagement lead for SDAP said, “As we said at our launch last year, taking action on plastic can also be an opportunity for local businesses, whether that be in reducing packaging costs or in gaining custom as a business recognised for its sustainable operations. I’m very pleased we’ve been able to work with so many local businesses and hope this award will enable us to reach more.”

SDAP has also partnered with over 50 community organisations across the district, visiting many primary and secondary schools, youth and other community groups, and working with many local councils keen to do their part. Stroud District Council has been a supportive partner from the start, with cross party agreement from councillors on the need for action on plastic, and the issue named as one of the council’s Corporate Delivery Plan objectives.

District councillor Catherine Braun said: “The council is delighted that SDAP has made such progress in its community engagement work on this key issue over the past year. The group continues to have the Council’s full support, and we have been pleased to do our part, including work to reduce plastic in our own operations and offering free-of-charge water refills at all publicly accessed District Council buildings as part of the Refill scheme.”

Claudi said: “I’m thrilled that we have been able to reach this first milestone. The SAS five-point plan has been vital in shaping and propelling our work across the community. Of course, Stroud district is far from completely free of unnecessary plastic, so this is an ongoing journey, but we have been inspired and motivated to receive this accreditation.”

The Surfers Against Sewage Plastic Free Community network aims to free the places where we live from single-use.

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 Officer, said: “It’s great to see the work that Stroud District 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.”