Burnham-On-and Highbridge have this week been awarded ‘Plastic Free Communities’ status as local work in reducing the use of single-use plastics is formally recognised with an award.

The towns have been awarded Plastic Free Community status by marine conservation charity Surfers Against Sewage (SAS), in recognition of the work undertaken by residents, businesses and groups in Burnham and Highbridge to reduce the impact of single-use plastic on the environment.

Burnham and Highbridge’s Town Clerk, Tatiana Cant, began work on the campaign early in 2018 after seeing communities across the country rallying their local residents to take action against the sea of plastic.

Weston-super-Mare joined the scheme, along with Wells, which has also recently achieved the SAS objectives, and Burnham and Highbridge residents have been keen to get involved.

Plastic free champions in Burnham-On-Sea and Highbridge

Registering with the SAS Plastic Free Communities movement, Tatiana pulled together key organisations and businesses in the town to put in place a five-point plan.

The objectives include setting up a community led steering group, instigating the SAS Plastic Free Schools education programme, getting local council commitment and working with local businesses, organisations and community groups to spread the word and minimise the amount of disposable plastics they use.

“Local residents in our community have been very keen to find out how they can help to reduce the use of single use plastic,” Tatiana told Burnham-On-Sea.com.

“I was very impressed at the concern of dozens of members who expressed their concern at a recent WI meeting.”

Tatiana, pictured, added that many businesses in both Burnham-on-Sea and Highbridge have embraced the challenge of eliminating single use plastics and replacing with more environmentally friendly materials.

This includes pubs, cafes, chips shops and the new Sopha furniture store in Highbridge. Polystyrene packaging, plastic straws, cutlery, cups and glasses are now history in many businesses across the towns.

The Princess Theatre is taking a lead on initiatives to reduce the town’s carbon footprint and in the last few months has signed up to the national Refill scheme so that people can refill their water bottles in the café.

It has ditched its sugar sachets and plastic straws and has joined the Walkers scheme to become a collection point for all makes of crisp packets.

Dozens of residents also turn out regularly to clean the local beaches. The weather is often poor, but it is always rewarding to remove litter from our coastal areas. Items range from cotton buds to car tyres and have included crisp packets which are 30 years old. There was also an excellent turnout for the screening of A Plastic Ocean in The Princess Theatre and great interest shown in the displays of alternative materials which people can use instead of plastics.

Schools in the area are supporting the Plastic Free work. Students at King Alfred School are incorporating plastic-free work into their art and drama projects and Churchfield School in Highbridge has joined the Plastic Free Schools campaign. In July, 80 children from St Andrew’s School took part in a beach clean and then discussed their experiences. The main source of litter was cigarette butts – and as a result there are plans to carry out a campaign to tackle the disposal of cigarette butts in Bunham’s community.

Tatiana added: “We are delighted to have been recognised by Surfers Against Sewage as a Plastic Free Community. This is a great start on our journey to improving the environment in our towns and coast which helps to make Burnham-on-Sea and Highbridge a fantastic place to live, work and visit.”

“We realise of course that our towns are not completely plastic free but with the help of enthusiastic residents and businesses we hope to make good progress and continual improvement.”

“Personally I am thrilled to have reached this important milestone before I leave my role in the Town Council – to move to the village next door to St Agnes, the home of Surfers Against Sewage. I will be keeping an eye on all the ongoing plastic free work and wishing this community every success.”

The Surfers Against Sewage Plastic Free Community network aims to free the places where we live from single-use. Using the five point plan the aim is to empower communities to kick start local grassroots action, which can then be built upon.

The marine conservation charity, based in St Agnes in Cornwall, says it wants to unite communities to tackle avoidable plastic from the beach all the way back to the brands and businesses who create it. It says it is not about removing all plastic from our lives, but kicking our addiction to throwaway plastic and changing the system that produces it.

Rachel Yates, SAS Plastic Free Communities Project Officer, told Burnham-On-Sea.com: “It’s great to see the work that Burnham-On-Sea and Highbridge have done to reduce the availability of avoidable plastics, raise awareness and encourage people to refill and reuse.”

“We have over four hundred communities across the UK working to reduce single use plastic and the impact it has on our environment. Every step those communities and the individuals in them take is a step towards tackling the problem at source, challenging our throwaway culture and encouraging the habit changes we need to see.”

Plastic Free Communities is an ambitious community initiative designed to unite and empower individuals, small businesses, local government and community groups to reduce their collective plastic footprint and protect the environment together.

Driven by inspirational local volunteers, we are building a new and exciting community movement tackling single-use plastics and plastic litter in our villages, towns, cities and rural locations.

This highly inclusive initiative, created for all ages and backgrounds, is designed to get the whole community active and do something positive to reduce the amount of plastic in the local environment. We believe that united communities lead to cleaner beaches, streets, parks and riverbanks.

Town Clerk, Tatiana Cant also commented: “Litter Free Coast & Sea Somerset has been a key stakeholder in the Partnership which has helped Burnham & Highbridge to become a Plastic Free Community. The Town Council has worked closely with the group who have provided excellent help and advice to the Town Council as well as running the Business Award Scheme to encourage local businesses to improve their practices. They have also organised numerous beach cleans to remove litter from our coastline and raise awareness. We couldn’t have done this without the support of our colleagues Tanya and Chloé at Litter Free.”