Penzance: Britain’s First Plastic-free Town

- July 2, 2020 -

When you arrive in Penzance by road or rail, you’re greeted with a sign that reads: “Welcome to Plastic Free Penzance. Reduce. Refill. Rethink”.

Plastic-Free Penzance isn’t simply a nice, alliterative phrase. It’s actually an officially recognised status, awarded to Penzance for achieving certain conditions. Here’s what our lovely local town is doing to help protect our environment.


What Is The Plastic-free Towns Scheme?

Penzance has the well-deserved honour of being the first town in Britain to achieve plastic-free status. The Plastic-Free Communities scheme was established by Surfers Against Sewage, a marine conservation charity that was founded in Cornwall in 1990.

surfers against sewage logo

Plastic pollution has a hugely damaging effect on the health of our seas, and this is a problem that people are increasingly becoming aware of. The Plastic-Free Communities initiative was set up to encourage everyone to take action. If everyone does their bit, from switching to paper bags to taking part in a beach clean, we can actually make a difference.


How Did Penzance Achieve Plastic-free Status?

Surfers Against Sewage set five criteria that Penzance had to meet to achieve plastic-free town status:

• Engage with the town council. The community’s plastic-free strategic group had to meet with the council, get a council member to join their group, and commit the council to becoming plastic-free on its own premises

• Engage with local businesses. A proportion of the town’s businesses had to remove or replace up to three single-use items (for example, a café stops providing plastic straws or plastic takeaway cartons)

• Engage with the community. This included the successful Plastic-Free Schools initiative as well as sports groups, trade groups, churches, charities…

• Hold awareness-raising events, such as beach cleans, which have become a real social occasion in West Cornwall

• Form a strategic group to keep this going (see point one!)


Penzance met them all. In December 2017, it became the first officially recognised plastic-free town.


What will I notice about Penzance?

Firstly, it’s a top place to buy a funky thermal coffee cup, as so many of our cafés now sell them! They usually come with a free coffee, too… You can also refill your water bottle at many of the local businesses. Bags are mostly made from paper, as are straws, and look out for compostable cutlery.

re-usable coffee cups

When you shop in Penzance, keep an eye out for businesses with a Plastic Free Champion sticker. These are the local businesses that have bought into the scheme, and you know that you’ll be supporting our plastic-free community be using them.

There are regular marches by local schoolchildren, and kids take part in the beach cleans we mentioned. Surrounded by our beautiful coastline, it’s not surprising that Cornwall’s young people take our environment very seriously. Several schools in the area now have plastic-free status, with Nancledra Primary (just outside Penzance) being the first school in Cornwall and just the second in the UK to achieve this.

local beach clean group in action
Are Other Cornish Towns Plastic-free?

Cornwall now has 55 plastic-free communities, and 13 of those have been awarded the same status as Penzance. Cornwall Live has just launched a campaign to make the whole of Cornwall plastic free.

It’s not just happening down here, and there are over 650 plastic-free communities in the UK: brilliant news for our environment.

man collecting litter on the beach
How Can I Make My Cornish Walk Plastic-free?

Well, by exploring the Cornish countryside on foot, you’re already ahead of the game, eco holiday-wise.

Well the first thing is to book with Cornwall Plastic Free Champions, Western Discoveries!

When you’re walking in Cornwall, there are a few simple things you can do to help keep us plastic free.

• Pack a refillable water bottle, and look out for businesses with a Refill Cornwall sticker. St Ives has its first dedicated refill tap, near the RNLI station

• Think about what you’re packing any snacks in – no little freezer bags

• If you prefer to use a straw, try a reusable one (the metal ones are great)

• Pack a flask or thermal coffee cup (second nature to most Cornish walkers!)

• Use reusable bags for any wet gear – something like a classic PE kit bag is handy

• Tag a Surfers Against Sewage beach clean onto your Cornish walking holiday. That positively helps our coast, and to be honest, they’re great days out. Get in touch with us at Western Discoveries, and we can look at fitting this in with your walking itinerary.


We’re so proud of Penzance for taking the initiative and leading the way – and we hope that soon, the whole of Cornwall will have the same plastic-free status.

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