Changing Behaviour, Changing Communities

Plastic Free East Dulwich

Nov 29 · 5 min read

Plastic Free Communities is an initiative with a mission to encourage local businesses, schools and consumers to reduce their use of unnecessary plastics. The East Dulwich branch was founded by film and content creator, Ric Baldock.

We caught up with Ric to talk about the role community advocacy can play in engaging people to change their behaviours for the better.

1. Tell us how you got involved in Plastic Free Communities

I’d been a member of marine conservation charity Surfers Against Sewage, for a long time. Two years ago they put a call-out for volunteers to run their Plastic Free Community programme in local areas. I’d always thought the connection to the ocean needed to be made more explicit for us urban dwellers and this seemed like a good chance to make that connection. I also love where I live and think it’s important to get involved and take care of the local community, so decided to put my hand up for the task.

2. How do the local Plastic Free initiatives work?

The charity provides a set of guidelines for you to work from, outlining areas to tackle, from local governance to businesses, events, community groups and spaces. But how you get there is up to you. There are set objectives to reach to become an approved ‘Plastic Free Community’, which gives you some focus and a benchmark to aim for. But, at the end of the day, it doesn’t stop with that certification. Getting the message out and changing behaviours is a never-ending task!

People often ask about the phrase ‘plastic-free’. It can sound a bit misleading, as no one and nowhere is ever going to be completely plastic-free. It’s really about raising awareness around the avoidable and helping to drive changes in behaviour wherever possible.

3. How receptive has the local community been?

It’s rare to find someone who doesn’t want to engage and do something to help. People genuinely care when it comes to their local community, particularly in East Dulwich where community spirit and a sense of pride in the area is high.

4. How important is it to work with young people and schools?

It is hands down the most rewarding part. Looking out at a sea of receptive faces, which are the future of our world, is such a privilege. It’s so inspiring to see the youth now leading the way on the climate crisis and frankly, putting us adults to shame.

5. What impact has the initiative had?

We’ve connected with over 3,000 people in the local area. Southwark Council has passed a motion to support all our initiatives, as well as committing to all of their premises going plastic-free. We have 11 businesses that have become Plastic-Free Champions, by removing or replacing single-use plastic items in the workplace. We’ve engaged over 30 community groups, spoken in 13 schools and run 9 events. It’s hard to gauge the impact on awareness, but if we can make people stop to think about the problems and talk about them with their friends and family, then that’s a step forward.

6. How is the collective attitude towards single-use plastics changing?

I think people are generally becoming more conscious of the pointlessness of it and also understanding how a few easy switches can make a difference. Everyone always references the ‘Blue Planet Effect’ — its brought the issue to a wider audience and has without a doubt made a difference. There have been lots of progress and positive movements in the last few years. The plastic bottle deposit returned[.2] scheme that is being launched, the ban on plastic stirrers, straws and cotton buds, which comes into effect next year, and the broader climate crisis conversations that have been driven forward, by the likes of Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion to name a few.

7. What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered?

The problem can feel overwhelming at times and I frequently fluctuate between feelings of overwhelm and positivity about the future. As a society we’re walking blindly into an ecological disaster and whilst there are changes happening — it all needs to happen quicker. People are trying to make a difference and it’s great when you hear about the switches that individuals are making. But ultimately, it’s the governments and corporations that need to take responsibility and drive the big shifts in behaviour, consumption, manufacturing and infrastructure.

8. Have you seen many changes in workplace attitudes towards conscious consumption?

Absolutely. In my industry there has been a noticeable drive to reduce our impact on the planet in recent years — I’ve been pushing that within our business specifically. It includes a better recycling and composting infrastructure and information, removing tea bags and using reusable coffee containers, banning all plastic water bottles and other unnecessary single-use plastic, monitoring food waste, energy usage and all areas within our workplace where we can reduce our carbon footprint. We also offset the carbon from every project that we do. I work in film and content creation and use this as a platform to influence and encourage clients to be better. We’ve also actively turned down jobs for brands that we don’t believe align with our moral, ethical or environmental values.

9. How important is social media to a campaign like this?

It can definitely help you reach an audience. You can argue it’s an echo chamber, but it plays a vital role when announcing local initiatives and events. It allows people to follow local campaigns like ours and also helps you find and connect with like-minded groups and individuals, who can then help you promote your message more widely.

10. How can people get involved?

We run regular community cleans in the local area, along with talks, screenings and other events. People can find out about these by following us on our social media channels or signing up to our newsletter on the website (details below). If anyone has time and is interested in getting involved, we’re always looking for enthusiastic volunteers to help with the campaign, so email us to find out more.

Follow Plastic Free East Dulwich on Twitter: @plasticfreeED

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Written by

Inspire Action. Change-driven design and communications studio based in London.

Change/Maker Magazine

Giving voice to those people working for social, societal and environmental progress.

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