How Penzance became Plastic-free.

While Padstow and Falmouth attract the hoards, Penzance is the UK’s first plastic free town and it’s commitment should appeal to the conscious traveller.

It’s a windy weekend in April. As I queue up for a warming cuppa in my Keepcup at XX on Long Rock beach, the wind cracks a Surfers Against Sewage sign like a gunshot and windcheater wrapped people make their way back and forward across the sand, picking up a tiny percentage of the 5,000 bits of plastic found for every mile around the Brtiish coastline.

With typically British persistence one bearded gentleman tries to cook hotdogs on a barbeque despite the gusts and grey skies.

Last July Penzance in Cornwall became the first Plastic Free Community in the UK, as designated by Surfers Against Sewage, one of the charities leading the fight against plastic pollution.

Kicked off by Rachel Yates, who was sick of picking up waves of plastic washed by the Atlantic like the people taking part in the Big Beach Spring Clean, a Plastic Free Penzance campaign went onto be supported by the town council, businesses and schools and dozens of businesses who have all pledged to remove plastic from their supply chains.

She’s not alone in wanting to rid her local community from plastic. There are now 543 Plastic Free Communities across the UK. But what does that really mean?

I went down to Penzance to find out how tourists and locals can work together to help support the initiative. The town is set to be a must-visit as Penzance’s stunning Art Deco, Jubilee l reopens in July, the first to be heated by geothermal energy.

What is a plastic free community?

Surfers Against Sewage have started to designate towns and communities around the UK as plastic free. There’s a clear road map for the steps communities have to take, from working with local councils and getting them on the journey to plastic free to getting support from businesses, schools, community groups and individuals.

(Click here to find out about their new Plastic Free Awards).

But what does it mean in reality?

In Penzance, amongst the restaurants, cafes, hotels and vineyards I visited there was almost a 100% visible commitment to not using single use plastic.

This is often a lot harder than most people realise, as it’s not just about the plastic you can see as a consumer but behind the scenes, think about the plastic that deliveries arrive in and that products need to be packed in. But businesses here are working hard to find new ways round the plastic packaging issue.

Speed however is of the essence. Our plastic soup seas aren’t improving and microplastics are now found in almost every square metre of land, sea and everything in between.

Many of us acknowledge that without change, we’ll be drowning in microplastics and there will be more bits of plastic in the sea than fish by 2050.

For such a coastal town like Penzance, supporting and respecting the marine environment is all important, not just for tourists who flock down to Cornwall for endless skies and the medieval charms of St Michael’s Mount, but also for the recovering fishing industry that’s down here at Newlyn, fuelling a rise in award-winning local restaurants.

The above article by Georgina Wilson-Powell first published on in Jun, 2019.