Turning the tide
on 2020

Here’s what YOU helped make happen last year

What. A. Year. I think it’s fair to say, 2020 was a year like no other… Like most organisations, we started the year with grand plans and ambitious campaigns, never thinking for a second, they would get thrown out the window, not just once but twice. Our entire team were furloughed in waves over the summer, leaving us running on half capacity and our Plastic Free Travel and Refill campaigns were effectively shut down overnight. We also had to make the difficult decision to postpone World Refill Day.

But, somehow, despite the impact of Covid on both our income and resources, we remained dedicated to our mission and are beyond proud of what we managed to achieve against the odds. And it’s all thanks to YOU – our supporters, our Refill Schemes, our partners and our wider friends and community.

We learnt that together we can overcome the unexpected, pivot, plan and adapt at the drop of the hat, whilst staying completely committed to our mission to prevent plastic pollution at source and protect our oceans so all life can thrive.

In the wake of the pandemic, we responded quickly, launching a series of new campaigns to tackle the tidal wave of plastic pollution caused by Covid and working hard to ensure reuse didn’t drop off the political and business agenda.  Here’s a rundown of just some of the things we made happen last year.

Coffee cup on tray - contactless coffee

Keeping Reusables on the menu

At a time when other organisations went quiet on plastic pollution, we knew we needed to keep the pressure on to stop us from backtracking on so much of the hard-fought progress that we’d already made.

Back in May, as cafes and restaurants emerged from the first lockdown, we sprang into action, launching our #ContactlessCoffee campaign, as well as a hub for businesses on COVID + reusables, to make sure they knew how to safely accept reusables. We also launched a petition asking the big chains to keep reusables on the menu – resulting in both Costa & Starbucks changing their policy!

The Contactless Coffee campaign has now reached over 7 million on social media and has been adopted everywhere from Australia to the US. The campaign was presented to the C40 network by one of our partners and the city of Vancouver will be adopting the process into their bylaws.

We also launched a Reuse Action Group (REPEAT) to bring together industry experts, scientists, businesses, retailers and epidemiologists to share best practice around operating reusables during coronavirus.

Tackling the tidal wave of PPE pollution

The pandemic created a wave of new and completely unprecedented problems like the littering of PPE. Whilst we completely agree that PPE is needed to stay safe, we’re concerned about the long-term impact of how it’s being used and disposed of around the world. If everyone in the UK used a single-use face mask every day for a year, it would create 66,000 tonnes of contaminated plastic waste! 

That’s why we launched a campaign calling on people to #ChooseToReuse with reusable face masks instead – we even launched a guide to help you make your own which is now the most viewed page EVER on our website.

Our campaign film has reached over 100,000 people & our Founder Nat was featured in an official DEFRA film about the problem with PPE pollution.

Growing the Refill Revolution

Creating practical solutions and driving the transition away-from single-use towards reusables is at the core of everything we do. And despite the impact of the pandemic, we took some pretty big steps that will mean we’re ready to keep powering the Refill Revolution when we emerge from lockdown.

In October, we took the Refill campaign to the next level  – expanding beyond drinking water and connecting our 300,000+ app users with locations where they can eat, drink and shop without the pointless packaging, as well as building partnerships with organisations that run ‘borrow schemes’ and online retailers that offer refill at-home options for those that don’t have a zero-waste shop in their local area.

The Refill App was also translated into 9 new languages enabling more people than ever to find locations to refill & reuse wherever they are in the world.

At the start of the year, we launched a partnership with Wembley Arena which saved a whopping 100,000 single-use plastic cups in just two months by offering reusable cups to customers for a small fee instead of single use.

And, before Covid hit the UK, we were in discussion with 8 NHS Trusts about a Plastic Free Periods trial within hospitals and we were working with the NHS Supply Chain on their current provision of period products (which now includes organic products from Lil-lets).

Engaging Businesses to take action on single-use plastic

We know there’s only so much we can do as individuals so we continue to engage with and challenge businesses on their use of single-use plastic.

In November, we launched our in depth report into the Food to Go sector benchmarking the top 20 coffee chains and fast food outlets and highlighting areas for improvement. As part of the project, we also created an ambitious roadmap for change and are now directly engaging with the organisations benchmarked, calling on them to take action.

Before the pandemic put the brakes on our Plastic-Free Travel campaign, we launched a 25-step guide for the travel sector to reduce single-use plastic and signed up key partners like Premier Inn. We’ll be relaunching the campaign again this year and looking for ways to support the sector as they recover from the impact of covid on their operations ensuring reducing plastics doesn’t fall off the agenda.

As part of our Plastic Free Periods campaign, we also met with big brands and suppliers like PHS, Esity, (Bodyform) and Boots, engaging with them around the plastic in their products.

Calling out Corporates

Sometimes, working collaboratively with businesses isn’t enough and as an organisation, we’re not afraid to publicly call them out and demand action.

Last year, we launched our #CallOutCoke campaign to highlight and report on greenwashing by big beverage brands like Coca Cola for their attempt to redefine terms like ‘recycling’ and mislead consumers.

We also partnered with Changing Markets for the high profile, UK launch of theirTalking Trash’ report calling out the worst polluters.

And our big win, was the launch of a public petition to get reusables back on the menu calling on UK coffee chains to reverse their ban on reusable cups and bottles. We successfully resulted in Costa, Starbucks and eventually Pret accepting reusables again. It’s all thanks to YOU joining us and calling out the big brands that campaign wins like this are made possible.

Powering Plastic Free Periods through a Pandemic

Our Plastic-free Periods campaign took on a whole new form for 2020.  We took it online reaching more people than ever before, and talking about some of the big issues surrounding plastic and periods through our #QuarantinePeriod series.

We ran our Rethink Periods Education Programme for a second year, taking the training online, which helped us reach even more teachers, in locations that we previously couldn’t get to. As a result, we trained a whopping 700 teachers who then went on to deliver the lesson to an estimated 100,000 students!

Even MORE exciting was the wider impact the Rethink Periods training went on to have… We found out that almost half of the teachers we trained, found out about the Department for Education’s scheme for providing schools with free period products through City to Sea, and almost 60% have gone on to order plastic-free or reusable products for their school. The impact of that in terms of plastic saved over the years could be massive!

Talking about the BIG issues

2020 was also the year that some pretty weighty topics finally started to be raised and tackled, as an organisation we did not shy away from the conversation.

We stood in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, speaking out in support of the toppling of the Colston Statue in Bristol and we launched Nat’s Chats, a series of monthly conversations between our founder, Nat Fée, and fellow environmental campaigners reflecting on the world and how together we can make it a more positive place. In these chats, we’ve tackled everything from the connection between plastic pollution and climate change to diet and intersectional Environmentalism to taboos around periods.

We also hosted a virtual screening for the eye-opening documentary The Story of Plastic to raise awareness of some of the wider issues surrounding plastics.

Providing Practical solutions for living with less plastic during lockdown

As always, we’ve continued on our mission to make living with less plastic as easy as possible and last year, we launched our new plastic-free living hub to provide ideas for simple swaps and products ideas whatever your budget. From the kitchen, bathroom and garden, to parenting and cleaning, our team has compiled their top tips to help you live with less plastic.

Continuing our award-winning streak…

Despite the pandemic, we have enjoyed some serious award success this year, winning a whopping 6 Awards and being shortlisted or finalists for an additional 8! Big wins include the Edie Sustainability Leaders Award for National Refill Day, The Global Good Award for Rethink Periods and The Business Green Award for Best Partnership Marketing with Chilly’s.

Not bad for the year nobody could have predicted


As we look ahead to 2021 with hope and oceans of optimism, we want to thank our incredible supporters – that’s YOU – and our partners, for your ongoing support throughout a rollercoaster of a year. Without you, none of this would have been possible. We look forward to seeing what we can do together to help protect our oceans this year, and into the future – whatever the world may throw at us.

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