In conversation with Sustainable Penzance

In this Q&A, Rachel Yates from Sustainable Penzance describes the environmental initiatives you can look out for on your next visit to West Cornwall.

As Rachel points out during our interview, Penzance is a town that likes to do things differently. It was the first town in the UK to achieve ‘Plastic Free Community’ status from Surfers Against Sewage, an initiative that encourages local businesses to cut down on single-use plastics while making it easier for you to use reusable water bottles and coffee cups in town. There are now more than 130 Plastic Free Champions in the area and every school in Penzance is part of the campaign.

Sustainable Penzance is an extension of this work. The Community Interest Company (CIC) collaborates with organisations and community groups throughout the Penzance area with the goal of creating a thriving town that prioritises people and planet. We asked Rachel Yates to tell us more.

Hi Rachel, thank you for speaking with us today. Firstly, can you tell us a bit more about how Penzance achieved ‘Plastic Free Community’ status?

RY: Plastic Free Penzance started in the summer of 2017 as part of the Surfers Against Sewage Plastic Free Communities campaign. People could see the impact that plastic was having on the coastline – it had become part of day-to-day life – then the toolkit and community movement came along, and they could do something about it.

Why do you think it was so effective?

RY: It’s almost as if plastic was a gateway to the other issues. People would come to a beach clean, see all the single-use plastic, and make the decision that they weren’t going to buy plastic bottles anymore. Then they’d notice the plastic around their fruit and veg or where their food was coming from. We realised we could use achievable ‘first-rung’ actions to connect people to the wider environmental picture.

What was the inspiration behind Sustainable Penzance?

RY: As I was working in the community more, I realised that there were plenty of amazing organisations in Penzance, all doing brilliant work for people, place and planet. But there was a need to pull all of it together into a collective plan – to strengthen it, see where the gaps were, avoid duplication and make the most of funding. Then it was about taking that voice to power and putting pressure on decision makers.

Can you tell us a bit about the projects you’re involved with?

RY: We work across ten key themes [see the full list here]. Waste, for example, includes Plastic Free Penzance and Refill PZ, while Tourism includes the Visitor Pledge and adding our thoughts, when asked, to projects like this [Sustainable Penzance supported the EXPERIENCE West Cornwall project in the creation of its eco tips, which accompany each itinerary].

Speaking of tourism, if people want to experience Penzance and they’d like to be more eco-conscious, what should they look out for?

RY: When you’re looking for somewhere to stay, you can book with a Plastic Free Champion. These are accommodation providers working with Sustainable Penzance to reduce their impact. It means that they have removed at least three single-use plastic items from their operations, and they are working on the rest. Generally, it means you won’t find plastic bottles of water in your room or toiletries in single-use plastic packaging. Some will even provide you with a plastic-free packed lunch for the day.

You were involved with the development of the Refill Map – can you tell us a bit more about it?

RY: You can use the map to find places in Penzance that will fill up your water bottles for free. You can also see if places sell refill coffee, food or hair and beauty products. We’re still on a journey, but hopefully, you will see a more plastic-free approach here in Penzance – and we’d love for you to give it a go.

Transport is one of your key themes, what can people do to reduce their impact?

RY: When it comes to travel, there’s so much you can do to cut your impact. You can arrive by train and then get around on public transport. Penzance has plenty of bike shelters, so there are lots of places to store a bike if you want to bring your own. There are also Beryl bikes [pay-as-you-ride electric bikes] for getting around on too.

Do you think that shopping locally is important?

RY: Yes, we need to support the businesses that are trying to do things in a better way. If you are visiting, why not try and buy your food from a local supplier? You can enjoy the experience of shopping in Penzance while cutting back on single-use plastic. It’s also about buying seasonally and locally sourced – that’s where people will really make a difference.

How can people get more involved while they are here?

RY: Take part in one of our events. Come to an exhibition or a film night. Beach cleans are a great way to connect with the problem while you’re here – 250 people showed up to the last beach clean organised by Plastic Free Penzance and Surfers Against Sewage, collecting 60kg of plastic. You could also get involved with local rewilding projects. Penwith Landscape Partnership and Cornwall Wildlife Trust are good places to start.


Anything else?

RY: Don’t underestimate the difference you can make as a visitor, even if you’re visiting for a long weekend. You can use your voice to ask for the change you want to see. For example, if you’re staying in self-catering accommodation, you could ask them to provide you with refill bottles and containers.

What would you say to someone keen to visit West Cornwall out of season?

RY: We’re lucky to live in such a beautiful place. It’s the environment around us that sustains us. To be able to come and visit, be part of it, learn from it and experience it in winter is really special. While you are here, look at how you can contribute to protecting it for future generations.


Sustainable Penzance is an extension of Plastic Free Penzance. Its mission is to build a community that’s resilient, works for everyone and protects and replenishes the environment. Project themes include education, tourism, rewilding, food, waste, energy and more. Find out more at