Suggestions and guides for plastic-free events

10 May 2021

Host a screening of A Plastic Ocean

Why host a screening?

Hosting a film screening about an issue is a great way to engage lots of people in your campaign by offering a more gentle way in.

If you're working with local cafes to get them to ditch plastic straws and cutlery, or working with your council, make sure to invite them along. 

About the film

A Plastic Ocean (2016, 100 mins) begins when journalist Craig Leeson, searching for the elusive blue whale, discovers plastic waste in what should be pristine ocean. In this adventure documentary, Craig teams up with free diver Tanya Streeter and an international team of scientists and researchers, and they travel to twenty locations around the world over the next four years to explore the fragile state of our oceans, uncover alarming truths about plastic pollution, and reveal working solutions that can be put into immediate effect. (IMDb blurb)

The film’s message and our campaign

A Plastic Ocean presents the problem of plastic pollution really powerfully. It shows the devastation caused to our environment and how its impacts are felt all over the world.

While the film presents the problem really well, it’s important to point out that the solutions it promotes are not quite what Friends of the Earth is calling for.

The film presents recycling as the solution, and shows a technology which turns plastic products back to nurdles – small plastic pellets which can be made into other products.

Friends of the Earth’s position is that recycling is not the answer. Depending on the type, plastics can generally only be recycled a few times, and some types not at all. Each time plastic is recycled its quality is reduced, so before long it has to be disposed of. This means it goes to landfill (or worse, is incinerated), but too often it escapes to pollute the environment before that point.

Some forms of recycling, such as when plastic bottles are turned into things like fleece jackets, cause plastics pollution through abrasion. This is when plastic microfibres are washed and worn off the product in the laundry and end up being flushed into the oceans where they can get into the food chain.

The solution to the plastics pollution crisis is to dramatically reduce how much plastic we are using. We're proposing an "End Plastics Pollution" law that will guide government action to phase out of all but the safest and most essential plastics.

Turn the film’s message into a discussion

During your film screening, you’ll need to make it clear that our position on the solution to plastics pollution is different to the one in the movie. Some of the solutions presented are false solutions, so you’ll need to be really clear about this. They include:

  • Making diesel from plastic, which causes dangerous air pollution;
  • The use of ‘pyrolysis’ – heating up the plastic to change its chemical composition, which creates pollution similar to incineration;
  • Recycling – which puts plastic back into circulation but will one day end up out there polluting the environment.

This makes for a great topic for discussion, because it gives you the chance to explain why recycling isn’t the answer, and that we need to use less plastic and call for a phase out instead.

How to get started

If you’d like to organise a screening of A Plastic Ocean, write to [email protected]

We have to pay around £40 for each screening, so if your group is able to make a donation towards the cost it would be really helpful.

Organise a plastic-free picnic

A great way to organise something social with your local group and engage lots of people in your community about your campaign is to have a plastic-free picnic.

Here are St Albans Friends of the Earth's top tips for organising a brilliant plastic-free event:

1) Pick your area. One of the first things you’ll need to do is find the perfect spot for your picnic. It’s a good idea to choose a popular, central place that’s easy to access. We decided to hold our picnic in a park area within a housing estate. The trustees that look after the area were supportive and put up posters for us, so it’s always worth seeing if there are any community groups attached to the venue who might be able to help. Doing it there also provided a good way to engage with a different group of people.

2) Publicity is key. We did lots on Facebook, Twitter, local radio and newspaper. We asked people to come and join the plastic-free fun, and asked that people try to avoid using single-use plastic (but we wouldn't be checking). We suggested people check on social media in case of bad weather, but in the end it turned out lovely!

3) Think strategically. A picnic is a lot of fun, but it can also help you win your campaign. Think through what it is you’re hoping to achieve at the event – is it signatures on a petition, raising awareness generally or getting your MP on board?

4) Invite a local decision-maker to join you. Related to number 3, we asked the local Mayor along, and he was great, encouraging everyone and promising renewed efforts from the council. You could invite your local MP or people from the council, or for example if you’re trying to get cafes to go straw-free, why not invite the owners along to join the fun?

5) Plan some activities. So that there was plenty for people to do we had cricket and football, and invited along some local businesses like a lady who sells disposable crockery made of leaves. A lovely local lady brought her Story Tent and kept the under 5s enthralled and the park people lent us their Splat the Rat and quoits games.

6) Take photos and invite the media. Your picnic could be a great way to get some local media coverage for your campaign, so don’t forget to invite them along or send in a press release. Take some good quality photos and send them in if they can’t send a photographer down.

7) Take a signup sheet. You’ll be meeting lots of great and enthusiastic new people at your picnic, so make sure they sign up to stay involved with your group. And don’t forget to contact them as soon as possible afterwards to thank them for coming and showing interest.

About 70 people came along to our picnic, many of whom hadn't been engaged in the environmental movement before, and it was great to see how creatively they'd avoided plastics.

If you’re looking for some tips on what to take to the picnic to keep it plastic-free, check out our blog. Or if you've done an event and would like to write a section for us please email [email protected].

Give a talk about plastic

This section includes a template presentation and talk that you can use to engage people at events on the Plastics campaign.

Friends of the Earth gets lots of requests for speakers at events on plastics, so as well as helping you with the talks you organise, we’ve put this together so that we can call on our brilliant local groups to help out with requests too!

This talk is designed to last about 10 minutes, but you can shorten or lengthen it depending on how much time you’ve been given.

This guide should give you a starting point for planning your talk and some top tips and advice to help you deliver it with confidence.


We’ve made a PowerPoint presentation to support the talk which you may want to use.
Please bear in mind that in many cases you won’t have the option to use PowerPoint (and in some situations it’s better to give a talk without the distraction!).

It’s up to you to find the method that makes you feel the most confident when giving your talk.
Good luck – and please write to [email protected] for any further help or guidance.

Introducing yourself and the topic (2 minutes)

Introduce yourself, if possible with a short personal story or something emotive before you launch into the heavy stats and details. Studies have shown that sharing a personal story can help build a rapport with your audience and get people tuned in to your talk.

"My name is xxx, and I’m a volunteer with xx Friends of the Earth. I’d like to tell you a bit about my own personal story and how I came to join my local group/ campaign on plastic…"

If you have any personal experiences of the harmful effects of plastic waste it would be great to share this, even if it’s just how watching Blue Planet 2 made you feel.

TOP TIP: This part of the talk could also be a good point to say a bit more about the work of your local group, especially if you have any really good success stories to tell.

The problem of plastics (3 minutes)

This part of the talk is all about explaining the problem, and creating the sense that action needs to be taken.

"So what’s the problem with plastic? The problem is plastic is everywhere, and it’s not going to go away for a very long time.

"Take the average plastic bag – used for just a few minutes, it won't disappear for hundreds of years.
And because it stays in the environment for so long, eventually it finds its way into the oceans, polluting them and killing marine wildlife.

"The vast majority of plastic waste doesn't get reused or recycled. It's out there lingering in the natural environment – polluting our soils and seas.

"Up to 12m tonnes  of plastic ends up in the sea each year, weighing the same as about 60,000 fully-grown blue whales. This includes tiny bits of plastic from cosmetics, bathroom products and tyres. [PowerPoint slide 1]

"It’s difficult to avoid, with products from tea bags to toothpaste tubes having plastic in them."

Top tip: you could also mention some plastic fails such as shrink-wrapped onions, bananas in plastic tubs, newspaper supplements and magazines wrapped in plastic bags [Powerpoint slide 2]

What people can do to reduce their plastic use (3 minutes)

This bit of the talk is about the practical things everybody can do in their own lives to reduce the amount of plastic they use.

"So what can we all do about it? There are loads of things we can all do in our daily lives to avoid plastic. We can easily refuse plastic straws and carrier bags. And there are some nifty alternatives to plastic like getting your veg delivered fresh in a box.

"Re-useable coffee cups are great – lots of coffee shops will even give you a discount if you use them. And there are some really good plastic-free and re-useable water bottles on the market right now too.

"For more tips you can have a look at our blog, '9 really good alternatives to plastic' [PowerPoint slide 3].

"And if you really want to take the plunge you could join the 8,000 people who have signed up to #PlasticFreeFriday, which encourages people to go plastic-free for one day a week." [PowerPoint slide 4]

What our group is doing and how you can get involved (2 minutes)

This is the really important bit, so make sure you’ve saved plenty of energy for the end. Here’s where you get to tell people about all the brilliant things you’re doing and most importantly of all, how they can get involved.

What you want people to do will vary a bit depending on who you’re talking to but we’ll assume you’re talking to a room full of people who want to hear about your campaign and do their bit to help. So let’s leave them feeling up for it and with plenty of ideas and options to get involved.

So think through first what the things are that people can do, starting with some really simple things. Remember you are likely to be talking to some people who have never taken part in a campaign before so give plenty of options and keep them nice and easy!

"All these changes to our own lifestyles will help. But what can we do right here in [your town] to tackle plastic pollution? The good news is there are things we can do right now to reduce how much plastic ends up in the ocean. And the more of us who work together right here in [your town], the more we can achieve..

"XXXX Friends of the Earth is planning a [big public meeting, film screening in the town centre, stall, day of action etc etc] and we need you to get involved.

"It doesn’t matter how much time you have – there’s plenty of jobs to be done both big and small.

"If you’d like to help out with any of the things we’re planning, or would like some advice or help to get something happening in your neighbourhood, please [sign up/ talk to me or someone else from the group."

8 ideas to bring your stalls to life

Here are a few interactive ideas to help make your stalls fun and engaging. Read more top tips on how to run a great stall.

Ealing Friends of the Earth asked people to sort items into how long they take to decompose

  1. Which decomposes first? Place a selection of objects made with different materials on your stall and ask people to put them in order of how long they take to naturally break down. You can also ask them to guess how long each one takes to decompose. Example: banana, envelope, wooden toy, tin can, plastic crisp packet.

    KEY POINT: plastic stays in the environment for hundreds of years – take the average plastic bag: used for just a few minutes it will stay around for hundreds of years.

    Answers: banana, two years; envelope (without a plastic window) 2 - 6 weeks; wooden toy (if painted), 13 years; tin can, 50 years; crisp packet, 1,000 years.

  2. Does it contain plastic? Display a range of objects on your stall, some which contain plastic and some which don’t. Ask people to say whether they think they contain plastic or not, and where the plastic is. Some of them could quite obviously contain plastic while some could be items where plastic is more hidden. Examples of objects containing hidden plastic: tea bags, clothing, coffee cups.

    KEY POINT: plastic is not always visible, and some plastics are so tiny you’d need a microscope to see them, but these are just as damaging to the environment as larger plastics.

    Note: Co-op 99 tea bags soon won’t contain plastic. Shirts and dresses are often made from a polyester and cotton mix, the former is a type of plastic.

  3. How do you think we should tackle plastic pollution? Ask people to vote on how the group could beat plastic – should you do some beach or urban cleans? Host a film screening? Write to and visit your MP? Most importantly during this activity, don’t forget to ask them to help, and which things they’d be up for helping with.

  4. Plastic swap shop. Get hold of some plastic-free alternatives to things like toothbrushes, tea bags, and so forth and invite people to bring their plastic versions and swap them with yours for a donation. There are plenty of plastic-free items available at the Plastic-Free Shop.

  5. Display of plastic from the park. So you’re doing a stall in your local park – why not spend 10 minutes collecting plastic litter before you start and showing people what you found in just a short time (hopefully not very much – or maybe none at all - but litter in many parks in Summer can be a big problem).

  6. Plastic-free heroes. Invite people to be plastic-free heroes and share their tips for living without plastic. You could hang a big sheet or large piece of paper for people to write their tips on with their name, and create a huge canvas of tips.

  7. Plastic-free pledge selfies. Create a large speech bubble template for people to write plastic-free pledges on, such as "I’m going to get a plastic-free toothbrush" or "I’m going to join #PlasticFreeFriday" and take pictures and tweet them with #PlasticFreeFriday. Or you could get people to write their pledges on a chalkboard and take a picture of that and tweet it at the end of the day.

  8. Create a bunting/washing line of plastic rubbish - either from your own rubbish bins, or collected beforehand.