How do you get a small campaign to turn into a worldwide success? You keep it personal.
That’s what Rebecca Prince-Ruiz and the Perth-based team of Earth Carers at the Western Metropolitan Regional Council found when they took their Plastic Free July challenge out of the office and into the mainstream. The program, founded to help people reduce and avoid single-use plastics in their daily lives, went from an office project to receiving more than 14,000 pledges worldwide within four years.
“In 2011 we came up with an idea in response to learning about the problems of recycling plastic – mainly that it’s more often down-cycled than recycled. So in our own office, we decided to go for a month without single-use plastics,” said Prince-Ruiz.
“It was much harder than we thought.”
The team of volunteers swapped ideas and helped each other stay on the straight and narrow.
At the end of the month, they had a ‘dilemma bag’ full of the plastics they weren’t sure how to avoid.
“We started sharing our ideas and tips via email. An article made it to the local paper. It was a bit of fun – a way to raise awareness. And we haven’t accepted a plastic bag or used a single-use plastic water bottle since!”
But that’s certainly not where the project ended.
“The following year social media and Facebook were a really useful way to share ideas. What about pasta – there’s a brand available in cardboard. Those kinds of tips. We ran events in our local area and screened the movie Bag It. We made our own bags from used curtains. It was a lot of fun and helped educate residents in Perth’s western suburbs about the important notion of ‘reuse’.
“Within a couple of years we had about 400 people participating and this built momentum. In 2013 we developed a website to capture information and ideas and provide some consistent resources. We shared all our success and failures and those tricky items from the ‘dilemma bag’.
“Now 14,000 people joined the campaign. We had some information coming in from Hollywood and we assumed it was local to WA. But was an LA-based farmer’s market! In the last week of our 2014 campaign we had 500,000 people per week on the social media side.”
The team’s philosophy is that although not everyone is able to live plastic free everyone can do something. And their success, Prince-Ruiz believes, is due to sharing that personal commitment and journey.
“Plastics is an issue people are aware of but this gives people a way to do something about it. Our success has been to help people share their own personal journey to make a difference – all the positives and failures. We post our original stories and we all connect on a personal level.
“It adds up to that feeling of ‘I can make a difference here.”
While the original idea was about making the project personal, widespread sharing of tips and ideas has lead to the sharing of online resources and networks locally, nationally and internationally. Small steps on a big scale.
“There’s strength in numbers,” says Prince-Ruiz.
“Act on what you feel passionate about. If you don’t have passion you can’t inspire. As much as we want to change everything it can be disillusioning – focus on one thing and give it a try.”
“Share our online resources – people to acknowledge our Plastic Free July challenge and register on our website – and work together on an issue. No need to reinvent, replicate or duplicate. Just link up and do what works best for you and your project partners – get your network involved and partner with them.”
The focus on sharing the load has helped drive the message further, but the personal aspect is what makes it resonate with so many supporters. The best piece of advice Rebecca would give to anyone wanting to start up a program is to keep it personal.