Supporting a plastic free future
The Plastic Free July campaign is an initiative launched by the Western Metropolitan Regional Council in 2011 aimed at reducing single-use plastic. Since its launch, the campaign has continued to grow and in 2017 was established as a charity known as the Plastic Free Foundation (PFF) to support what is now a global social movement. In 2021, an estimated 140 million people took part in Plastic Free July globally, with people signing up from 190 countries. This campaign, with support from Lotterywest, is giving people and organisations the tools they need to reduce their consumption of single-use plastic.
Towards the engagement of individuals and communities in WA to reduce waste and create a cleaner and healthier state.
Plastic Free Foundation Limited
- Development of an evaluation framework to understand outcomes and impacts of Plastic Free July.
- Understanding of plastic avoidance behaviours in participants and the general population.
- Promotion of change in plastic avoidance behaviours at an institutional level through work with local governments and the corporate sector.
- Ongoing research allows activities to be targeted to areas of greatest need and allows the Foundation to focus efforts in areas where behaviours are becoming normalised.
- Taking time to establish a clear vision has meant that the organisation has a solid framework to assess how it is tracking towards its goals and provides guiding principles used assist in all decision-making.
- A slight reduction in participation and impact in plastic avoidance behaviour was reported in 2021-22. Possible causes of this decrease include the COVID-19 pandemic which saw a dramatic increase in the use of single use plastic and competition in the media space.
- Developing collaborative relationships with support groups around the world participating in the campaign to increase impact on this growing issue.
Since first being used commercially around 70 years ago, plastic production has increased 200-fold with it predicted to increase by another 40 per cent in the next 10 years . Plastic pollution has become globally ubiquitous with macro and micro-plastic being found in terrestrial, marine, and freshwater ecosystems the world over . A problem right across the globe, the full impact of this presence of plastic in our ecosystems and their correlating harms are difficult to discern. Scientific studies conducted in the past decade have discovered chemicals that leach from plastic in every human and animal body, making it impossible to form a control group for experiments . According to a 2020 Australian Government Review into the recyclable market, from 2017-2018 Australia produced 4,407,300 tonnes of plastics, of which only 9 per cent was recycled.
While recycling therefore forms part of the puzzle in addressing the plastics problem, strategies also need to be implemented to reduce plastic use .
Plastic Free July is a personal challenge which is part of a global movement to reduce single use plastics. Prior to applying for the grant, PFF spent 12 months understanding different perspectives on the plastic waste problem in WA, engaging with community organisations, local government, schools, businesses, and corporates. This research allowed the organisation to develop effective strategies to implement towards the reduction of plastic waste and make a real difference.
Rather than focusing on raising awareness about the issues associated around single-use plastics, the campaign aimed to empower individuals to make changes in their everyday lives. This included behavioural change by sharing solutions and stories about how people and organisations are making changes, providing added inspiration, and helping others to join in.
Through this grant, PFF has been developing a sustainable business strategy and improving its capacity to continue to grow the campaign. This included a rebrand and extensive consultation with users.
PFF is working to support local governments and the corporate sector with more targeted strategies to help reduce single use plastics. This involves the development of a membership program, including a toolbox specifically designed to meet their needs and engage staff.
PFF is also actively seeking to understand and improve its intervention strategy through formative research and behavioural insights as well as tracking quantitative and qualitative data to examine the social impacts of the project.
“While we know people are very driven by the problem, and aware and concerned, that doesn’t mean they are going to do anything differently. So, what we do is share and celebrate solutions, and try to change our social norms.”
Rebecca Prince-Ruiz, Founder
Impacts and outcomes
The evaluation framework developed through this grant sought to understand outcomes and impacts through a variety of mechanisms. One element of this framework involves measuring behavioural change of participants in the campaign, by taking pre and post campaign surveys about their choices and behaviours. As a supplement to this, the evaluation also looks at trends in the general population.
- In July 2021, an estimated 140 million people took part in Plastic Free July, up from 120 million in 2018.
- Participants have adopted on average 11.7 of 17 common plastic avoidance behaviours.
- Comparing this trend to the general population, this represents an additional 2.2 behaviours on average.
- The information gathered also demonstrates that the global trend for plastic avoidance is strong with 91% of the population supporting policies and action to reduce plastic waste.
Aside from the direct benefits in reducing plastic pollution, the campaign organisers are also discovering that participation has led to other outcomes such as a positive sense of well-being, which was maintained even during the COVID-19 pandemic, contrast to sharp declines in the control group of the study.
Through the work with local governments and the corporate sector, this work has also been effective in promoting change at an institutional level. For example, one organisation realised that the purchase of pens came packaged in plastic and as they couldn’t secure a workable solution with the supplier, they opted to change. These types of decisions, at the corporate level, can send strong market signals to suppliers and producers to rethink the use of plastic in their products.
“It’s not about a few people being perfect, it’s really about the power of everyone doing this together”
Rebecca Prince-Ruiz, Founder
Ongoing research allows activities to be targeted in areas of greatest need
The continual evaluation that PPF undertakes allows it to research consumer behaviour towards plastics and shows certain types of behavioural change have been widely accepted and adopted by the general populace, such as taking reusable shopping bags and using containers to store food in the fridge. The organisation therefore wants to focus on areas where behaviours are becoming normalised, but there is still a large potential to grow their practice, such as avoiding bottled water and soft drinks, pre-packed produce and plastic food wrap as well as refusing straws. It has also identified practices such as sourcing bulk detergents, shopping in bulk food stores and avoiding plastic bin liners as next steps, given the current low levels of practice among the population.
Taking time to establish a clear vision
Towards the beginning of PFF’s journey, there was dedicated time spent on clarity of vision, mission and the steps needed to get there. Having this clear vision has meant that the organisation has a framework to assess how it is tracking towards its goals and provides guiding principles used to assist in all decision-making.
Reduced participation and impact in plastic avoidance behaviour
Participation in Plastic Free July grew exponentially between 2011 and 2018, before plateauing to around 5 per cent per annum in 2021. Possible causes of this decrease include the COVID-19 pandemic which saw a dramatic increase in the use of single use plastic and competition in the media space. However, the organisation is also interested in examining the structures it has in place to guide participants in their subsequent years of engagement.
Building more collaboration
One of the goals of PFF as it continues to develop and grow the campaign is to explore how it can develop broader collaboration with other institutions and organisations. This fits into part of the strategic review PFF is undertaking after ten years of the campaign. The organisation is looking to understand how they can grow to impact, collaborate with, and support groups around the world and make a difference on this growing issue.
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- Department of Agriculture, W.a.t.E., Recycling Market Situation: Summary Review. 2020, Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment: Canberra.
Acknowledgement of Country
The Western Australian Community Impact Hub acknowledges and pays respect to the Traditional Owners of the land on which we are based, the Whadjuk people of the Noongar Nation and extends that respect to all the Traditional Owners and Elders of this country. We recognise the significant importance of their cultural heritage, values and beliefs and how these contribute to the positive health and wellbeing of the whole community.