Campaign to make London a city free of single-use plastic water bottles (further development of the plastic pollution experiment)

Develop and implement a high impact, ‘system-change’ campaign to end the use of single-use plastic water bottles in London, optimising the resources and networks of the Marine CoLABoration group, in order to:

  1. Promote understanding within the UK of the problem of single use plastics on the ocean and tangible actions to address it.
  2. Effect a measurable reduction in the amount of plastic litter going into the Thames and the ocean.
  3. Connect individual behaviour in the city to impact on the sea.
  4. Provide a platform to encourage and align existing initiatives and emerging innovations.
  5. Incentivise more appropriate and more connected local public policies and systems.
  6. Showcase what is possible in a flagship global city, inspiring change elsewhere.
  7. Develop and assess the effectiveness of a systemic approach focused locally, which seeks to shift underlying values and structures in order to create a step-change in behaviour and practice.
  8. Explore and identify opportunities and mechanisms to scale and replicate the campaign nationally and internationally.

Over the next two years, develop, implement and assess the impact of an innovative London-wide campaign to make London single-use-plastic-water-bottle free, seeking change through a holistic and multi-targeted approach, which will include some or all of the following:

Evidence base

  • Conduct a baseline assessment of single-use plastic water bottle use and disposal in London and monitor change through the campaign.
  • Monitor ocean impact through developing and implementing a simple, science-based montoring programme of plastics entering the ocean via the Thamesork with academic partners and the Port of London Authority to implement a simple, science-based process for monitoring.
  • Map stakeholders and conduct a power analysis relevant to the use and management of single-use plastic water bottles in London and monitor behaviour change over time.

Stakeholder engagement

  • Secure manifesto commitments from candidates for the London Mayoral elections in 2016.
  • Launch a public-focused campaign connecting Londoners to the Thames and the sea, supported by pro bono resource from the advertising industry (e.g. the Comms Lab).
  • Connect with other key innovators, initiatives and campaigns e.g. Virgin Pure, Fountains for the Future, RSA
  • Circular Design, Ellen MacArthur Foundation to showcase solutions and accelerate change.
  • Develop an alliance of iconic business and cultural institutions committing to reduce or remove plastic water bottles.
  • Develop solutions with high profile sporting events e.g. the London marathon to remove single-use plastic bottle use.
  • Engaging with industry producers and suppliers and working with e.g. Share Action on investment asks for shareholders in London to explore appropriate business and financial levers.
  • Build on current initiatives across London universities to catalyse a student campaign for reusable water bottle use and water fountain installation.
  • Engage the London transport network to enable ready access to water, in collaboration with existing initiatives e.g. Virgin Pure, London piers.
  • Collaborate with progressive retailers e.g. Selfridges to promote change within the retail and restaurant sector.

Systems design

  • Research the opportunity/cost of harmonising waste collection across London and engaging with London boroughs on the issue and build systems change into government policies and plans.
  • Work with London boroughs, corporate partners and key industry players to make drinking water readily, freely and easily available across London.


  • Provide a toolkit of alternative to single-use plastic water bottles, from water fountains to lower impact containers.
  • Develop a campaign app, connected with existing apps, to support the campaign messaging, drive behaviour change, and engage citizen scientists in data collection.
  • Launch a design competition to innovate around alternatives to single-use plastic water bottles.
  • Establish celebrity ambassadors for the campaign who are prepared to promote a single-use plastic water bottle free London.
  • Facilitate a connected series of exhibitions around the theme of plastics and water in all major cultural attractions, ranging from ZSL London Zoo to the Science Museum, to be launched in 2018.
  • Exploit London’s position as a national and international media hub, maximising the Marine LAB’s networks, connections and opportunities, e.g. 2015 Social Innovation Exchange conference in Mumbai, 2016 IUCN World Conservation Congress, to inspire change elsewhere.
  • Use the communications reach of the Marine LAB to promote the campaign through all media channels, anchored in a website.
  • Secure manifesto commitments from candidates for the London Mayoral elections in 2016 and progress their implementation with the successful candidate.
  • Government commitment to a bottle deposit scheme for London by end 2016.
  • All London universities single use plastic water bottle free by end 2016.
  • 20 major cultural attractions and London events committed to be single use plastic water bottle free by end 2017.
  • 50 key retailers, restaurants and supermarkets committed to be single use plastic water bottle free by 2020.
  • A water fountain plan for London launched by the Mayor of London, including integrating into legislation for new construction projects.
  • Measurable reduction of plastic water bottles entering the ocean via the Thames.

Developing the concept

The idea for a single-use plastic water bottle campaign in London emerged from a series of Marine CoLABoration discussions exploring the critical issues facing the ocean, levers for change, and how/where LAB members should focus their expertise and networks to deliver step-change, with outcomes beyond the reach of any one organisation. The concept has been tested with science, conservation and industry experts at the Economist World Ocean Summit and the Plasticity Forum in June, and explored with an expert panel and audience at Selfridges department store in London during its Project Ocean events, which this year focused on marine plastics. LAB members worked closely with Selfridges who removed single-use plastic water bottles for the Project Ocean launch in July 2015, resulting in significant media attention. This could be considered the first step in the campaign.

What is the Marine CoLABoration?

The Marine CoLABoration is a group of nine UK-based NGOs exploring how to collaborate and communicate more effectively the role and value of the ocean in people’s lives, in order to secure a sustainable and positive future for the ocean. Established by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (CGF) in early 2015, the Marine LAB meets regularly in workshops hosted by CGF. LAB members are: ClientEarth, Fauna and FIora International (FFI), Forum for the Future, Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP), International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO), Marine Conservation Society (MCS), New Economics Foundation (NEF), Thames Estuary Partnership (TEP), and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

Why target single-use plastic water bottles?

Plastic is an extremely useful material. It is light, cheap to produce and very durable, but these strengths are also its weaknesses, particularly when it ends up in the sea. Plastic pollution is recognised as one of the most significant and growing threats to ocean health. Eight to 13 million tonnes of plastic go into the ocean every year and by 2050 it is estimated humanity will have produced 33 billion tonnes of which 10-15% will be in the ocean. The problem is pervasive, with every part of the ocean now affected, negatively impacting people, the environment and the economy.

A variety of solutions are emerging, but the issues are complex and a systemic approach is needed targeting values, behaviour, design, policies and systems in/for industry, government and the general public to create significant, lasting change. Though one of the easier forms of pollution to deal with, plastic bottles remain a highly visible component of marine litter and in a country like the UK, with safe water in our taps, the one-off use of plastic for drinking water seems particularly egregious. A campaign to reduce the use of single-use plastic water bottles in London would create a strong iconic focus and clear agency for individual/organisational action, giving traction to the issue, complementing the existing initiatives and organisations working in the marine litter space, and promoting innovation. It’s a great way to make a complex global issue local and personal, engaging people’s imagination and thought processes on the bigger issue of single use and the marine environment.

Why the focus on London?

  • Global city – provides an example with international profile and reach
  • A particular political opportunity in the run-up to London Mayoral elections in 2016
  • An opportunity to connect plastic litter on London streets to an ocean issue – at the heart of London lies the - iconic, tidal river Thames – an actual, historical and metaphorical connector of the city to the sea – maritime history, London’s prosperity built on sea trade, shipping
  • Marine plastic pollution is a global problem needing locally appropriate solutions. Innovation e.g. on climate change increasingly happens at a city level e.g. through C40 network and is often competitive. The campaign provides an opportunity for London to take the lead on what could become a global initiative
  • National and global media hub with reputation for innovation and thought leadership
  • Uncoordinated systems ripe for change and maximizing economies of scale – 26 London Boroughs, each with its own waste management and collection systems
  • Key institutions and organisations interested in the issues/developing innovations e.g. RSA, Selfridges, London universities
  • 38,000 plastic water bottles litter the streets at the end of the London Marathon
  • Marine LAB networks particularly strong in London
  • marine_colab/a_sea_change.txt
  • Last modified: 2015-09-24 11:42
  • by nik