Sustainable Silchester

When you hear that the UK is a major contributor to the world’s plastic crisis, generating more plastic waste per person than most other countries, it’s clear that a change is most definitely needed.


As we approach Plastic Free July, CommunityAd had the pleasure of speaking with Sustainable Silchester’s Vanessa Richards who spoke in depth with us about the importance of going plastic free…


For readers who might not know, can you tell us how Sustainable Silchester first started, its purpose and long term goals?

Many of us now suffer anxiety over climate change and bio-diversity loss, and the world that our children will live in. One way to manage that anxiety is to take control over what you can change, and so a group of us decided to set up Sustainable Silchester, part of Silchester Parish Council, to encourage and support local residents and businesses in making meaningful change.

Most people care about our planet and want to play their part in protecting it, but are confused by contradictory messages, and worry about cost or impact on their lifestyle. Sustainable Silchester aims to give clear advice and support tailored to local people, to help people save money whilst reducing their impact, and to have some fun doing it.


Was there a particular moment, show you watched, something you witnessed first-hand that inspired you to go plastic free?

It was the pictures of those mountains of UK plastic that people had tried so hard to recycle responsibly ending up dumped in Turkey. The UK generates far more single use plastic than it can recycle – according to the Big Plastic Count nearly 100 billion pieces of plastic packaging every year of which only 12% is recycled in the UK. The remainder is shipped to poorer countries who are even less able to handle it than we are. And even in the UK, recycling plants are releasing up to 13% of the plastic they recycle as micro plastics which are then found in our water, in our lungs and in our blood.


What have been some of your biggest achievements to date since starting Sustainable Silchester?

We created our own Sustainable Brownie and Rainbow badge, which has now been achieved by over 300 girls across Hampshire. The children have to tackle 4 challenges under each of these headings: cutting waste, food, transport and supporting wildlife. They then have to make a poster and tell their unit how what they did helped. We still have some badges available if anyone knows another unit that would like to take up the challenge – details on our website at

We have been working hard to normalise re-use, to help cut waste. Last year we ran a clothes swap and loads of people brought in good quality clothes that they no longer wore, and exchanged them for other clothes – essentially a free wardrobe refresh!


Can you tell us more about your Repair Café, what you do there and the long term goals for this?

North Hampshire Repair Café visit a different location on the last Saturday of each month, and aim to repair almost anything. Sustainable Silchester were delighted to welcome them to visit us last Saturday and were amazed by the range of things that they could repair: toasters, vacuum cleaners, headphones, clothes, jewellery, chairs, garden tools. We had over 50 happy visitors!

The Repair Café is a wonderful initiative: by getting your stuff repaired you can save money, keep an old favourite, and save the planet.

New stuff generates a lot of carbon dioxide as the materials are produced, manufactured, packaged and transported – in total buying goods and services represents over a quarter of the carbon footprint of an average household. But it can be very difficult or expensive to get our old stuff repaired and that’s where the Repair Café comes in. Find out more at


Are there any tips you can give to readers that can help, no matter how small, them take the right direction to going plastic free?

I strongly believe that the first step to reducing anything is to measure it, so you know where your effort can be best directed. I would start by keeping a list of all the pieces of plastic that you throw out in a week.

Once you have that, take a look at the things that you throw out most often, and consider whether there is an alternative for that one thing. Make your change manageable, and you are more likely to stick to it. Then, when you have got used to that one change, look for the next one.


As a nation do you think we can take any tips we can take from other countries to run as a better plastic free England?

England is one of the world’s biggest users per head of single use plastic. France has banned single use plastic on most fruit and vegetables, and declared that the Paris Olympics in 2024 will be single-use plastic free. Sri Lanka is banning single use plastic following a series of wild elephant deaths from plastic poisoning.

I think the message is that where there is political will, there is a way. It’s up to us to tell the government that we want meaningful action on single use plastics, and to show that we are ready for it by avoiding single use plastics where possible.


In a perfect world, how can we turn this awful plastic pollution around and try to ensure the future for our children and grandchildren will be safe?

Think positive! When there is sufficient public will, change can come. The public showed that smoking in public buildings was unacceptable, and we got the smoking ban in pubs – unthinkable a few years before. More recently, following sustained public outcry we have a commitment to act on sewage in rivers. Choose to buy stuff that is not wrapped in plastic, and more will be sold without plastic, lobby your MP, comment on social media: demonstrate that we want and expect change, and government action will follow.


For readers that would like to get involved with Sustainable Silchester, how can they get in touch to find out more?

We would love more people to get involved. Find out more about what we do and contact us through our website

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