Essex County Council: Love Essex, Not Plastic

The ‘Love Essex Not Plastic’ campaign aimed to change the mindset of how plastic is used, reduced and recycled in Essex. By encouraging residents to sign the Essex Plastic Pledge, and commit to changing their current behaviour, they receive information to help reduce single-use plastics and find suitable alternative, plastic-free options.

The challenge

COVID-19 presented a real challenge for us as it resulted in the campaign being suspended for three months. The majority of the content had been planned and finalised well in advance of the campaign launch in January 2020. This meant that when the COVID-19 lockdown and restrictions were introduced in March 2020, a lot of our scheduled activities were no longer relevant or appropriate. We had to update our resources and information to make it relevant for a new COVID-19 way of life (social distancing, safety measures, lockdowns, etc). We also decided against continuing the idea of engaging with businesses as a lot of the work we had planned was to do with reducing plastic in the workplace which was then irrelevant when the majority of residents were either furloughed or made to work from home.

Alongside the issues COVID-19 presented in terms of engagement with businesses, it also posed a problem with schools (as they were also closed for several months).

The solution

As we were unable to continue with the activities we had originally planned (such as in-person events), the majority of communications was via social media and digital platforms. We trialled a radio campaign to launch the Plastic Pledge but found we had more success via paid promotion on our own social media channels.

Each month we focused on a specific theme across our e-newsletter, web content and social media posts (e.g. plastic-free picnics, plastic-free bathrooms and plastic-free Christmas).

To keep residents engaged with the project, we hosted monthly giveaways for residents that signed the pledge, tying in with the monthly theme (e.g. picnic hamper of plastic-free goodies). The competition was launched at the beginning of each month on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts and campaign partners shared the posts on their individual pages. Once the post had received organic engagement and reach, we would boost the post to reach a wider audience and spread the message further. This was highly effective – we spent £4,480 on paid social media advertising across the year and achieved 58,907 engagements and 795,405 impressions on these posts.

After a three-month temporary pause, we re-launched the campaign in July to tie in with the national campaign ‘Plastic Free July’. Our Instagram solely focused on single-use plastics for the entire month and we had 2,122 residents sign the pledge in July, our highest performing month. Ongoing content and campaign activities included the creation of videos, graphics, webinars and surveys to monitor success and resident feedback.

Working with schools had proved difficult due to the schools being closed during lockdown, and then the huge challenge of students readjusting to heading back to school. Therefore, we introduced a microgrant scheme that awarded 40 schools £250 to put towards a plastic-reducing project. To ensure that schools were able to get involved, we gave them a deadline of end of September 2021 to get their projects up and running. This allowed staff and students to settle back in, and offered plenty of time to discuss project ideas before launching.

The impact

The campaign was a real success: the e-newsletter generated a higher level of engagement than our main e-newsletter, and it set the standard and best practice for future campaigns.

166 residents completed our end-of-campaign survey. This revealed that 90 per cent of those who pledged no longer use single-use plastic bags, 86 per cent have given up plastic straws and 77 per cent no longer use plastic water bottles.

We saw a significant reduction in single-use plastics in the schools that received the microgrant. A few examples are below:

  • Colchester Academy bought 1,000 reusable bottles for all the students and staff. Since the money was awarded in March 2021, their internal water dispensers are showing they have saved over 19,000 bottles! The outdoor dispensers do not record the number of refills, so it is estimated that the number of disposable bottles saved will be substantially higher.
  • Roach Vale Primary also provided reusable bottles and now no longer stocks single-use plastic bottles of water in the tuck shop.
  • Danbury Park Primary and Fairview Under 5s bought reusable dessert pots resulting in them no longer using single-use plastic fruit pots. Fairview has also started an allotment and the children have been growing fruit and vegetables to reduce the need for plastic packaging.
  • Epping Forest Primary and Holt Farm Infants bought containers with lids/plate covers so they no longer use cling film in the school kitchen.
  • Westerings Primary has introduced ‘Plastic-free Fridays’ and has even been shortlisted as ‘Sustainable School of the Year’ by their Trust.
  • Woodcroft Primary registered as a location for single-use gloves to be recycled rather than thrown away in the residual waste stream or littered.

How is the new approach being sustained?

Even though the campaign has now come to an official close, the issue of plastic pollution is still prominent. Our Love Essex Not Plastic campaign webpages are still live and kept up to date, offering residents plenty of information about reusable alternatives and guidance to help reduce their plastic. We have uploaded a recording of a plastic campaign webinar on the Love Essex YouTube channel, and we regularly post information and updates around single-use plastics. We have maintained a good relationship with the schools who were awarded the £250 funding and we are in the process of collating a ‘good news story’ that we can share with the rest of the schools across Essex to inspire further change.

Lessons learned

As COVID-19 isn’t expected to disappear anytime soon, we will need to prepare content that fits with new ways of working/living e.g. planning communications around fewer people in offices and workplaces, social distancing and restrictions etc.

We also found that digital/social media advertising proved to be a lot more successful and engaging than some of the alternative channels we tried. Social media advertising is also a lot easier to monitor in terms of success (click rates, engagements, impressions, shares, etc). Going forwards we will allocate a higher proportion of campaign budgets to social media and digital advertising.


Cathryn Wood, [email protected]