Breaking: All plastic cotton buds banned after successful #SwitchTheStick campaign

We are today celebrating the news that the British Government is completely banning plastic cotton buds, stirrers and straws. The move has been in the offing for more than a year after the agreement of the EU’s Single-Use Plastics Directive and follows years of campaigning by  City to Sea including the successful #SwitchTheStick campaign.

The #SwitchTheStick campaign saw all major UK retailers announcing they would ‘Switch the Stick’ and only sell biodegradable paper stem buds. A move which stopped over 478 tonnes of single-use, non-recyclable plastic being produced each year.

Our founder Natalie Fee welcomed the news saying, “Since our successful #SwitchtheStick campaign in 2017 we’ve seen over 400 tonnes of plastic stopped at source each year through all major retailers having switched to paper stem buds. This ban will now mop up all the smaller retailers and pharmacies who still need to make the switch and hopefully make flushed cotton buds on UK riverbanks and beaches a thing of the past!”

Natalie also warned however that this is just the first step and that there is still a lot more to do. She continued, “Without sounding too much like a stick in the mud, today’s announcement also highlights how much more there is to do. We desperately need government to adopt a Deposit Return Scheme on all plastic bottles, we need them to commit to not send period products filled with plastics to schools and they need to be clear about how they plan to implement the EU’s Directive that demands countries ban other items including cutlery, plates, sticks for balloons, as well as cups, food and beverage containers made of expanded polystyrene and on all products made of oxo-degradable plastics.”

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If you care about climate breakdown, you should care about plastics.

More than once I’ve heard people say that climate breakdown is a much bigger issue than plastic pollution, or that plastic pollution is a distraction from the wider environmental crisis we face. Add to this a recent BBC interview with George Monbiot in which he slammed switching your cotton buds as ‘pathetic micro-consumerist bollocks’, and I’ve got myself a case for defending plastic pollution’s place at the table of environmental collapse. Sounds like a dinner party to die for. 

In his defence, George was referring to the problem of trying to solve rampant consumerism with more consumerism. And we did have a particularly fun moment when I challenged him on it on stage recently at an event. As the founder of City to Sea, the organisation behind the #SwitchtheStick campaign (which successfully got all UK supermarkets to stop making cotton buds out of plastic and switch to paper instead) I felt the need to call him out on that one.  

And it’s a case in point, stopping over 400 tonnes of non-recyclable plastic, which would have most likely ended up being flushed and making its way into the UK’s rivers and seas, isn’t micro-consumerist bollocks. It’s a big reduction in fossil-fuel based plastic that sent a strong message to not just the supermarkets, but the plastic industry itself, that us ‘consumers’ don’t want 275,000 tonnes of currently non-recyclable plastic a year covering our cosmetic products, food, or anything else. And beyond that, it challenged investor’s assumptions that the plastic industry is a good bet. Pathetic micro-consumerist bollocks? More like awesome macro-systemic transformation. (I thought I made that word up, but apparently, it already exists.)  

Challenging industry assumptions of the infinite growth of demand for plastic – a plastics boom even – is exactly what we’re doing every time we as individuals refuse single-use plastic. And challenge them we must, as over 99% of plastic is made from fossil fuels, and most of us are now well aware that we need to keep that stuff firmly in the ground if we’re to have any chance of avoiding the worst consequences from climate breakdown.  

According to one study, this means leaving at least 80 percent of the world’s known remaining fossil fuel reserves in the ground, which includes more than 90 percent of U.S. coal reserves and all 100% of Arctic oil and gas. We cannot meet these goals without kicking our global plastics habit. And here’s why.  

Currently, plastic manufacturing is estimated to use 8 percent of yearly global oil production. It doesn’t sound like much does it? Yet the plastic produced from this, or our lack of effective waste management systems, has been enough to wreak utter destruction on marine ecosystems, killing hundreds of thousands of marine mammals, entangling countless others and poisoning our food chain. There are unseen consequences too; degrading plastics on beaches are releasing methane (a greenhouse gas 84 times more potent than CO2) and a new study shows that microplastics in the ocean could be disrupting natural carbon storage 

Despite this catastrophe, plastic’s share of global oil use is set to triple by 2050, increasing greenhouse gas emissions from petrochemicals by 30 percent and doubling plastic pollution in our oceans. 

via GIPHY

If the plastic industry has its way, rising plastic production will account for 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. That’s about the same as the entire current emissions of the transportation industry – planes, trains, cars, buses and all.  

And the industry push is powerful – currently, over $200 billion is being invested in factories, pipelines, and other infrastructure in the U.S. that will rely on shale gas (from fracking) to supply feedstock to the plastic industry. The need for us to push back is real, and it’s urgent.  

Yet for such a big and ruthless force, they have a major weak spot; they need us more than we need them. They need us to keep buying plastic, they need our governments to keep subsidising them, and they need investors to keep investing in them.  

You can stop buying single-use plastic. You can join a movement like School Strike for Climate or Extinction Rebellion and get your government to subsidise mass ecological restoration and renewable energy instead of fossil fuels. And you can make sure your current account provider, investments or pension funds are not funding the plastic industry.  

climate protestor holding sign Image by Jonathan Kemper

Plastic bag bans all around the world, the new EU single-use plastics directive, bans on straws, polystyrene and yes, even the plastic cotton bud, are a red flag to investors that the plastic industry is at risk – that maybe the boom they were hoping to make a buck out of is as dead in the water as the marine life they might one day have gone snorkelling with, had they not ruined it.   

So keep on signing petitions, sharing your zero-waste, plastic-free photos on Instagram, keep on creating a trend for a reusable, buy-less lifestyle and keep on refilling those water bottles. You’re creating a new story, and the more people that buy into it the less attractive the old one becomes … and, a bit like smoking, we quickly realise it really wasn’t that attractive anyway. “Remember the days we used to walk around carrying planet-polluting bottles and sipping coffee out of plastic-lined cups with virgin plastic lids? What were we thinking?”  

It’s time to broaden our perspective on plastic pollution and shift the focus away from its effects towards its cause. Yes, we still need to share photos of majestic, endangered species dying from ingesting plastic, and we also need to be talking about consumerism, capitalism and climate breakdown. Plastic pollution is a symptom not just of a broken waste system, but of a broken society, and it’s in all of our interests to fix it as soon as is humanly possible. 

Natalie Fee is the founder of City to Sea 

Feature Image provided by Bob Blob

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Government urged not to flood schools with plastic period products months after challenging schools to go plastic free

City to Sea have today written to the Education Secretary Damian Hinds MP, urging him to make sure that all period products purchased by this government will either be plastic-free disposables or reusable products.

The call comes after government confirmed that they would be providing free period products to both Primary and Secondary Schools in England and months after the Government challenged Schools to give up all single-use plastics by 2022.

Most period products contain plastic. Period pads for example (including Lil-lets, Always, Tampax and most supermarkets own-brands) often contain up to 90% plastic – the equivalent of four plastic bags per pad, as well as using single-use plastic for packaging the products.

Commenting, founder of City to Sea, Natalie Fee, said:

“Following the announcement to provide period products in schools we want to ensure this momentous and welcome action isn’t a travesty for the environment by ensuring all schools are provided plastic free products. As such we are seeking confirmation from government that they aren’t planning on flooding schools with single-use plastic period products just months after challenging schools to go plastic-free. There are plenty of alternatives out there that are plastic-free, including many reusable options that can save school girls and the government money whilst having a smaller impact on our planet.

She continued, “Most people don’t realise that every single day in the UK about 2.5 million tampons, 1.4 million pads and 700,000 pantyliners are flushed down the loo and that nearly all of these will contain plastic. The result is blockages in our sewers and used period products washing up on our riverbanks and beaches. I am hoping that Government will agree with us that this is a huge problem and set a real example by making sure all the period products they procure are truly plastic-free.”

Campaigns Coordinator at City to City, Jasmine Tribe added,

“In one move Government has the chance to empower young people, protect our oceans and tackle period poverty. People can save up to 94% over their menstruating lives by switching to reusable period products. I hope to see government rolling out a modern period education program alongside this great initiative as this is absolutely vital to get the most out of the scheme.”

For further information on City to Sea’s Plastic Free Period Campaign please visit https://www.citytosea.org.uk/plasticfreeperiods/

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2018 – a year of planet protecting, plastic-pollution campaigning!

As we sail into the new year, we thought it was a good time to reflect, take stock and share some of the incredible things that we’ve achieved together this year.

It’s fair to say 2018 was the year of plastic pollution – Blue Planet 2 led to widespread awareness of the issue and Collins Dictionary crowned ‘single-use’ the word of 2018. The wave of change has been rising over the past 12 months and we’re riding it, guns blazing into 2019!

Shipshape and Bristol Fashion

Flash back to 2014 when our founder, Natalie Fee wondered what would happen if she gathered together a bunch of activists, scientists, local organisations and campaigners after seeing islands of plastic flowing down the river Avon in our home city of Bristol. By early 2018 we were a small but dedicated team of 4, committed to finding practical, postive solutions to single-use plastic and sucessfully getting retailers to ‘Switch the Stick’ – preventing 478 tonnes of plastic at source.

We’re now a team of 20 and growing, creating award-winning campaigns and doing a pretty good job of getting people and businesses off single-use plastics and switched on to reusables. Starting an organisation is difficult and growing it comes with a whole new set of challenges, like running out of cutlery in the office kitchen… Ok, maybe that’s not the best example, but  it’s true to say that we’ve been building the ship while we’re sailing in it – so with all the exciting changes happening as we move into the next chapter, we’ve appointed our first ever SEA-eo, to help steer the ship into the future.

Our plastic pollution campaigns have reached millions!

Thanks to your support this year – we’ve reached more people than ever before, raising awareness of some of the most important challenges we face today and even better – the planet protecting solutions that make a difference.

You’ve signed petitions, written to the Government, donated your hard-earned cash, watched and shared our campaigning videos, downloaded (and used) our Refill app, taken to the streets to sign-up over 15,000 Refill Stations and supported our toilet tour. 

Nearly a quarter of a million of you signed our 38 degrees petition for a levy on single-use plastics. The government had record numbers of responses  to their consultation on a plastic tax and nearly 1/3rd of those were people who signed our petition.

You’ve had your voice heard – and most importantly, you’ve passed on single-use plastic and switched to reusable alternatives, preventing countless tonnes of plastic from landfill – or worse, making it’s way into our precious oceans.

NAT BECOMES BRISTOL’s WOMAN OF THE YEAR

On a personal level, it’s been an insane year for our founder Natalie Fee, who was not only nominated as one of Nesta and the Observer’s 50 New Radicals and crowned Bristol 247’s ‘Woman of the Year,’ but was also awarded an honorary Doctor of Science by UWE Bristol, in recognition of her campaigning to protect the oceans from plastics and other avoidable wastes. We couldn’t be prouder!

Natalie Fee on being a New Radical

It's been an incredible year for us at City to Sea! We couldn't have done it without our amazing founder, Natalie Fee, who was this year nominated as one of Nesta and the Observer's 50 New Radicals! https://buff.ly/2NEuDfp"Being a New Radical fills me with an incredible sense of hope that together, we are creating a better future." 🙏

Posted by City to Sea on Saturday, 22 December 2018

The Refill Revolution IS goING global!

Thanks to our amazing volunteers, partners and community, our award-winning Refill campaign has grown beyond our wildest expectations and next year, we’re going global. There is no way we could achieve so much without the support of our partners Robeco, Water UK, the national water companies and  Chilly’s Bottles.

There are now more than 15,000 Refill Stations across the UK with chains like Pret, Starbucks, Costa and thousands of incredible independent businesses signed up. Thanks to our incredible volunteers there are now Refill Schemes in 127 towns and cities across the UK and our app has been downloaded over 90,000 times! That’s 90,000 tiny waves being turned into a tsunami of positive change.  A tsunami that is now taking Refill onto a global stage.

If all of our Refill Stations are used just once a week, we’re saving more than 5 million bottles at source every year!

Plastic Free Periods

A massive 2.5 million tampons, 1.4 million pads and 700,000 panty liners are flushed in the UK each year (MCS 2015) – many of them making their way into our oceans and waterways.  This is why it’s crucial we involve people from all walks of life in the conversation around reusable period products so we can begin to reduce these shocking numbers. This year, thanks to the support of people like you, we’ve successfully reached a whopping 1.3 million people with our Plastic Free Periods campaign. 

A highlight for us, was Natalie and Jasmine speaking about Plastic Free Periods on BBC Woman’s Hour. In the 3 days following this feature sales of Honour Your Flow‘s reusable pads increased by 300%!

Sales of tampons and pads have dropped £5.6 million since 2016 and we’re seeing the big brands feel the pressure. Our founder Natalie Fee explains how TampaxAlways and Lil-lets are responding to the changing tide.

It’s Bog Standard

In November we launched our ‘Bog Standard’ campaign, in a bid to raise awareness of the almost 10% of plastic found on our beaches, which is coming directly from our toilets. We are literally flushing the health of the oceans down the pan.

Our new public engagement campaign will raise awareness of the dirty dozen and educate people on what should be going down our toilets – only the 3Ps – pee, paper and poo!

We’ve been trialling a sticker campaign – on toilet doors in public spaces, Universities, cafes and restaurants in the Anglian Water region to help change flushing behaviour so that people know what they should and shouldn’t be flushing where it matters. To coincide with World Toilet Day we ran a Toilet Tour across Brentwood, Chelmsford and Cambridge and bared (almost) all in public to raise some eyebrows and awareness of the issue. Watch this space for our campaign rolling out across the UK next year.

We couldn’t have done it without your support so we wanted to say a MASSIVE thank you, from the bottom of our hearts. Here’s to 2019!

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Help steer the ship as a Non-Executive Director with City to Sea

Like all good businesses, we never actually set out to become anything. Actually that may not be true, we imagine lots of good businesses started out with a robust business plan and a vision of the future. And yet what started as a frustration in our founder’s head (or heart) has somehow become a thriving not-for-profit organisation, growing award-winning campaigns and doing a pretty good job of getting people and businesses off single-use plastics and switched on to reusables.

One person on a mission became 18 (soon to be 20) people on a mission. In an office. With grown-up things to think about like HR, GDPR, PDRs and all manner of things that need explaining … and all while staying true to our mission to leave the oceans and waterways in a better state than we currently find them.

11/18th’s of the team one sunny day at the office.

It’s true to say that we’ve been building the ship while we’re sailing in it (and at times it’s felt more like a speedboat than a schooner) but we’re starting to feel a bit more streamlined and the wind’s still in our sails – thanks to the continued interest in plastic pollution solutions from our supporters, companies and the media.

So, as we head into 2019, with a new Sea-EO at the helm and a bunch of exciting new partnerships, we’re appointing a non-executive board to help steer and guide us on our way.

If you’re experienced, dynamic and entrepreneurial, and if you think you’d be able to offer some of your time, expertise or guidance and really want to help stop plastic pollution at source – then we’d love to hear from you.

We’re not able to pay our Non-Executive Directors (NEDs), but we will reward you with results – you’ll be able to see the impact of your commitment. We’re planning to meet once a quarter, either here at our iconic HQ on the Bristol Harbourside or in London.

Spot the Banksy …

Have a read of the job description here to see if you think we’re a match and for how to apply, or get in touch with our founder, Natalie Fee, for a chat. Oh and before the end of January would be ideal.

Thanks for reading!

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Meet our Sea-EO!

We’re excited to share the news that City to Sea have appointed a Chief Executive, Rebecca Burgess, to manage our growing team and build on this year’s incredible success as we move into 2019.

We’ve seen phenomenal growth over the last 12 months – evolving from a dedicated team of just 5 in early January 2018, to a team of 18.  The rapid growth follows an busy year of campaign success and both public and corporate interest in the issue of plastic pollution. Our Refill campaign was awarded Gold at the Global Good Awards earlier this year and now has the support of High St chains such as Costa, John Lewis, Morrisons, Greggs and Wetherspoons and through partnerships with transport hubs, including Network Rail and Heathrow Airport. The campaign is now going global, with plans to launch in Europe in 2019 and interest Internationally from Australia to Iceland.

Rebecca joined City to Sea in April 2018 as Head of Partnerships, to manage the growing network of businesses and organisations keen to support City to Sea’s work through campaigns such as Refill. After a few busy months she was appointed to the board as Commercial Director and naturally stepped into the role as Chief Executive as of December 2018.

Prior to City to Sea, Rebecca worked at Bristol-based independent consultancy Eunomia. Here she was responsible for the project management of Eunomia’s larger policy-related clients and oversaw the effective running of the twenty-strong consultants in the Policy and Sustainable Business teams. It was through working with the European Commission on their Plastic Strategy, that Rebecca felt inspired to do more in the fight against single-use plastic.  Rebecca will take over the role from December 1st 2018.

“I’m delighted to be taking on the role of Chief Executive at City to Sea at such a pivotal point in the organisation’s history. The growth we have seen over the past 12 months is a testament to both the amazing team we have and the increase in public and corporate concern about the issue of plastic pollution. I’m excited to see where we go next and look forward to leading the organisation into 2019 and beyond.”

City to Sea was founded in 2015 by Natalie Fee, an author, campaigner and recently one of Nesta’s 50 New Radicals. Having witnessed the amount of plastic flowing out of the river Avon into the Bristol Channel, during the city’s year as European Green Capital, Natalie, whose background was in media, was inspired to see if she could do something about it.

Natalie Fee will stay on in her role as Founder and continue to be the spokesperson for City to Sea as the organisation’s media presence continues to grow.

“I’m thrilled we’re in the position to offer Rebecca the role of Chief Executive. We’ve sprung up from nothing to become a key player in the fight against plastic pollution with a thriving, growing team. And while our enthusiasm and passion got us this far, it feels like great leadership and governance will be the key to our continued success.”

City to Sea are in the process of recruiting a non-executive board to help shape the future of the organisation. If this sounds like something you’d be interested or know someone with the skills and passion for the role get in touch.

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ALL Major UK Retailers Pledge to ‘Switch the Stick’ to Stop Source of Plastic Pollution

All major UK retailers have agreed to phase out plastic cotton buds by the end of 2017 following concern over the number that are ending up on our beaches.

City to Sea, alongside Scottish charity Fidra, have been calling for retailers to phase out plastic-stemmed cotton and switch to paper to cut down the amount of plastic ending up on our beaches and in our rivers. City to Sea’s ‘Switch the Stick’ campaign has also been supported by over 155,000 members of 38 Degrees. To the delight of all, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Aldi, Morrisons, Lidl, BootsUK, Superdrug and Wilko have communicated their commitment to ensure their own label cotton bud products will be made with paper stems by the end of 2017.

A Tesco’s spokesperson commented: “We’re committed to ensuring all of our own label cotton bud products will be made with paper stems, and will do this by the end of 2017.”

Similarly, a Sainsbury’s spokesperson said: “We have been working hard to improve this product. Our new cotton buds, with 100% biodegradable stems, will be available before the end of 2017.”

An Asda spokesperson said: “This is an area where we’re working hard to make a difference and we’re pleased to confirm that all our own brand cotton buds products will be made with paper stems by 2017.”

And an Aldi spokesperson said: “As a responsible retailer, we are committed to removing plastic from our cotton buds by the end of 2017.”

Natalie Fee, City to Sea founder: “We’re delighted with the commitment from so many major supermarkets to ‘Switch the Stick’ from plastic to paper stem buds. Whilst they still shouldn’t be flushed, this move will stop millions of plastic stems ending up in the marine environment each year and is a huge win in the fight against marine plastic pollution.”

Dr Clare Cavers, Research Officer from Fidra’s Cotton Bud Project: “Johnson & Johnson and Waitrose pledged to change to paper cotton buds in Spring this year, and we are very pleased to see other retailers following their lead. Plastic pollution in our seas is a major problem, so by making this positive change, we are a step closer to cleaner oceans.”

Plastic cotton bud stems are the number one item of plastic, sewage-related debris on our beaches and rivers [1] – yet UK retailers can help prevent this by switching the stick from plastic to paper – and over 155,000 people have shown their support to the cause by signing up to City to Sea’s campaign on the 38 Degrees website.

In the marine environment, plastics can be eaten by marine life, often with fatal consequences. Plastic is found in the stomachs of Loggerhead Turtles, seabirds and many species of UK-caught fish. And pieces that don’t get eaten break down into micro-plastics, forming part of a dangerous plastic smog in our seas.

The 38 Degrees petition has received over 155,000 signatures in support of the City to Sea campaign.

Trish Murray, campaigner at 38 Degrees, added: “The public’s overwhelming support for this campaign shows that there is a real desire for retailers to provide environmentally sound alternatives.’

It’s great news that six supermarkets in the UK have made a commitment this week following Natalie’s campaign and the support of thousands of 38 Degrees members. The huge petition has sent a clear message to all shops – customers expect them to switch to paper cotton buds to protect our wildlife and our seas.”

City to Sea's 'Fish & Sticks'
© City to Sea

[1] Beachwatch Report 2015, Marine Conservation Society




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