In our Ecopiphanies series, we explore the ways individuals and groups are inspired to embark on their sustainability journey.
Each one of us has our own relationship with sustainable living and with nature, so each journey is unique and a source of inspiration. We sat down with the founder of Everyday Plastic, Daniel Webb, to ask him about his own sustainability journey, and the moment he knew he wanted to make a difference- his 'ecopiphany'.
We’ll talk a little bit about Everyday Plastic, and the things Daniel has achieved since first starting his solo plastic collection in 2016. Since then, he’s partnered with Greenpeace to deliver the most impactful plastic use survey on household waste in the UK, and made a real impact on how we view single use plastic waste.
About Everyday Plastic, the organisation transforming how we think about plastic waste
Founded in 2018, Everyday Plastic focuses on evidence-based education and campaigns to teach organisations and people the realities of plastic use and how to make a difference. Its mission is to demystify the plastic problem so that it isn’t so overwhelming, and encourage everyone to make changes that have a meaningful impact.
Everyday Plastic tackles over-packaging, recycling myths, and a culture of disposability, and helps others to be more plastic savvy. Their mission inspires us every day to tackle the issue of plastic waste, and as a team combat plastic waste in broader society. So what was the inspiration behind their efforts?
‘I knew I had a story to tell’
Beagle: Can you tell us about your eco-piphany? What was the moment of revelation that kick-started you on your sustainability journey?
Daniel: “I read Naomi Klein's "This Changes Everything", which is pretty depressing, but also full of really stark information that helped me see the world in a different way. At the time the environmental conversation was quite closed. My background is in Marketing, and I really wanted to use that to help people like me who don’t have a background in science, environmentalism or journalism. I was trying to think of ideas of how I could use that experience to help other people understand the issues.”
After moving to Margate, in Kent, Daniel could see swathes of plastic washing up on the beach and became more conscious about the plastic being purchased at the supermarket.
“I was sort of walking, running along the beach. And, you know, I was just seeing a bunch of plastic pollution everywhere. Yeah, it's the kind of same you know, a lot of a lot of people have that same entry point when it comes to understanding the plastic problem. And it certainly was the same for me”
“I was looking at all the waste on the beach, and relating it to supermarket shelves, connecting the two… I’d come back from the supermarket, bring my dinner, and stuff to clean the house and have a shower etc., and all this waste I was generating was piling up. I was wondering what would happen to it, and I found out I wasn’t offered any recycling where I lived, which was the real alarm bell. It made me question: if I’m not offered any recycling, then how effective is recycling? Because I thought that was how we tackled the issue.”
“I decided to do this little experiment and store every single piece of plastic waste that I generated for a whole year. So I went all in, and immersed myself in the issue. One of the things that was so valuable about the experience was that I was so immersed in it. For a year, every time I picked up a piece of plastic I was connecting to that piece of packaging. And I was reading a lot about it, and learning on the job really.”
“I got to the end of the year, and I knew I had a story to tell with 22 bin bags packed in my spare room in my flat.”
'The most shocking moment'
Beagle: What happened next?
Daniel: “I found an earth scientist who is a researcher as well. She helped me to develop this methodology to analyse my plastic waste. So for four days, we took all my bin bags, hired this music venue in Margate with 2000 capacity, got some friends and some other volunteers and we separated and counted and categorised and weighed and photographed every single piece. We literally covered the floor of this venue with the stuff that I've thrown away. It’s still the most shocking moment I’ve had throughout the whole experience, to see all of the stuff I had thrown away, and barely remember using any of it.”
“Once we’d done all this analysis of my plastic waste, we developed a methodology to analyse it. How much was there? What would it look like if it was scaled up? What are the categories, for instance how many crisp packets were there?”
“Chocolate, salad bags, bin bags, bread bags, all of these things. We categorised everything in that. It helped to give us a picture of where the key issues are, in terms of how things are packaged. We figured out how much was single-use packaging. Most of it was, because it was thrown away. But suppose if we think about how we define single-use packaging, it's designed to be used once and then thrown away. So actually, [even after breaking it down into categories] all you have is 93% was specifically designed to be used once and then thrown away.”
“Understanding the problem through my own consumption habits, and how my individual consumption can actually tell the story of the global plastic problem. After that I wanted other people to have that same experience, and to connect to it in the same way I did. It really did change my life. Almost there and then I dropped my career in marketing and tried to figure out how I could do this on a larger scale. Three or four years later, it led to The Big Plastic Count, which we ran with Greenpeace.”
‘A Big Citizen Science Experiment’
“That experience completely changed how I thought about the problem, and I wanted to design a project for people to do the same thing. Because I believe that if everyone kind of understood what they were throwing away that it gives them an insight into the global plastic problem and the scale of it."
“So I spent about three years developing what was formerly called the Everyday Plastic Survey, which invited people to count their plastic for one week, analyse it in the same way that we did, and then submit their results to a website, which would then generate their personalised or household plastic footprint. But the key thing was that altough there's an output for an individual or household, what we'd be doing was collecting data on a massive scale. So it was a big citizen science experiment that we were working on with the public, to help create and generate this crucial evidence.”
Working with Greenpeace to Drive Change
“We went through trials and tweaks. And then last year, I was approached by Greenpeace too, because I wanted to take this project and scale up and make it big and so did they, which was perfect for me, because that was the perfect destination for it. So in March of this year, we launched what has become the The Big Plastic Count. It's the same brief as The Everyday Plastic Survey; count your plastic for the week, enter your results into our website, and that will then generate your personalised plastic footprint. We felt that if we could get 10s of 1000s of households to do this, we'd be able to produce and present an honest, authentic, and representative snapshot of what plastic packaging is passing through our homes and what happens to it.”
The Best-Case Scenario
“We've just published the results of the campaign. We had almost 100,000 households enter the data. Between them, they counted almost six and a half million pieces of plastic. The average workout was 66 pieces per household. Now, if we were to assume that was typical of every household in the country, given a sample size of 100,000, which we feel is reasonable, it would mean that we're throwing away 1.85 billion pieces of plastic packaging every single week. Over a year, that's nearly 100 billion, and that's just in the UK in one year.”
“There's certainly an argument to say that the results are conservative given that it's a self-selecting survey. People might be looking to consume fewer people might have not counted everything people might not have counted for the full time. So I think the picture we're painting is a best-case scenario. But by doing that, it shows how big the problem is.”
“The aim is to present these results to the government and the industry. This is where the decision makers or the key decisions, rest. What we're trying to galvanise is people's power for people to push these decision makers as much as they can, by taking part they've done their bit. And so I think it's about continuing to push those in power. Because none of the changes would be happening; Tesco wouldn't be pledging to lose a billion pieces of plastic in a year. All of these organisations and businesses are making these pledges because of public demand. So it's just about trying to drive that as much as possible and to get them to act quickly and to act more strongly as well.'
'This is where you guys come in'
Beagle: How has this experience changed things for you personally? Do you have any sustainable swaps you'd recommend to our users, or anyone looking to live a more plastic-free life?
Daniel "This whole experience so far has just made me consume way less. I buy fewer clothes, I don't buy as much in general, but buying stuff now is more challenging. This is where you guys can come in. I'm still drawn to Amazon when I look to buy things, but I can't bring myself to do it. I'm scattered around a lot more, and trying to select swaps is quite difficult."
"I always try to think of ways I can reduce what I'm using. For things like fruit and veg, I just buy as much loose as I can. There's never going to be a way to do this perfectly, because if you want to buy soft fruit like strawberries for example, you can't get those loose. I look to recude as much packaging as I can in my fresh produce, and I buy in smaller quantities. I always recommend to buy one out of four of your fresh fruit of veg loose, and then see where that journey takes you. Because you might end up trying to buy a veggie box, or making special trips to the greengrocer, but if you're doing it in a supermarket which most of us are, you have to think a little bit more about ways to do that."
"Another thing I have done is buy more in bulk. It's a higher initial outset, but it saves money over time. For example buying bags of rice. Instead of buying little bags of rice at just a few hundred grams, you can buy a 10 kilo bag of rice [which lasts much longer and reduces the amount of plastic used]. I'm looking at those kinds of swaps as well, not just what you can buy but actions you can take.
"I don't use as many assorted personal products either. I use a bar soap. That's another swap again, using bar soap instead of a shower gel. I buy the soap in bulk, from Faith in Nature. It works out to around £1.50 per bar of soap, which works for us. So another swap would be soap for shower gel. "
Top Tip for Tackling Plastic Waste
Beagle: Do you have any other tips for people looking to live a more sustainable lifestyle?
Daniel: “My number one tip there is just to take it slow, take it at your own pace. No one's gonna go completely plastic free, I mean plastic free in reality is practically impossible anyway. So I would take it slow. Arm yourself with the information. Don't make hasty swaps. Research as much as you can. Don't feel bad about having to buy things in plastic. It's not about feeling guilty, the system's the one that's in the wrong, it's not you. You don't have a choice. Some of the choices aren't affordable, available, or accessible. So it's about taking it slow and picking your battles, you're not going to be able to win everything. That was one of the early pieces of advice I had. And I stood by that. So yeah, take it slow, pick your battles. And work to your limitations, you know, budget, cost, lifestyle, maybe you don't have access to a refill store or a greengrocer. Think about how it can work for you.”
A note from Beagle
Thank you so much Daniel for sharing your story with us and the origin of your eco-piphany, which has led to so much change in public conversations around plastic use. We are looking forward to the incredible impact that the data you’ve worked so hard to collect will have on the plastic waste problem.
Read our other eco-piphany stories:
- [Interview with Georgina Wilson-Powell - her
- [Interview with Rob Wilson - his
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