17th April 2020

Earth Day: An interview with Plastic Patrol

Claire Corlett

For Earth Day 2020 we wanted to find out more about some of our startups who are helping drive change in behaviour, improve sustainability and make the world a better place to live.  First up, we meet Lizzie Carr, founder of Plastic Patrol.

Tell us about your start up, and why you started

I started Plastic Patrol in 2016 to draw attention through the environmental impact of plastic pollution through adventure and wellbeing. It’s only when we connect with nature that we are able to both recognise and appreciate the detrimental impact of human activity and Plastic Patrol’s ambition was – and still is – to sit at the intersection of these two areas to create lasting social change.

Over the last few years Plastic Patrol has grown globally and we run activity based clean ups across UK, Europe, USA and South America. More than 15,000 volunteers have supported our efforts in 82 countries round the world helping to gather more than 300,000 examples of litter logged in the app.

What are the biggest environmental challenges facing businesses today?

There is an increasing use of plastic during the current pandemic – some of it necessary and some of it through lack of alternatives. We’re already failing in recycling standards across the world and have very little infrastructure to deal with what is already in existence, and with less people currently in the workforce and increased usage it means we’re likely to see a huge increase in plastic in landfills and, as an effect, in our waterways.

The silver lining is the environmental changes we’re already seeing due to the reduction in human activity. There’s been less air pollution, increased wildlife sightings and my hope is that although we are being forced to isolate in our homes now, this experience and sense of deprivation will instil a much deeper respect and appreciation for the natural world once restrictions are lifted.

What are the challenges and opportunities facing a startup who wants to positively impact the environment?

Launching a start up today that has considered and implemented all the recent learnings businesses are taking to be more sustainable means there is a massive advantage. A lot of established businesses are investing huge amounts in branding to position themselves as a more eco-friendly brand, sometimes without following through fully on commitments. Consumers are more savvy than they’ve ever been when it comes to sustainability. They know how to spot greenwashing, they question supply chain ethics and they demand honesty and transparency. If a brand can launch in this climate and reflect true sustainability throughout it’s life cycle this holds a lot of weight with purchasers.

How can data help businesses develop better environmental practices?

Data is crucial for the work Plastic Patrol does but it’s often underestimated and ignored in litter picking. We prioritise data collection as a key part of our activity and see it as a valuable tool to inform industry and government, helping to find solutions based on real-time insight. All volunteers who join our activity based clean ups are required to download the Plastic Patrol app and record all the litter collected by type, brand, amount and location (which is automatically geo-tagged) for our scientists and researchers to identify trends and patterns in both litter and behaviours. Data is evidence. Litter picking alone will never solve this problem, it must be coupled with data collection to get to the source of the problem and address it at the level required.

What’s your top tip for any new business who wants to develop a culture of sustainability as they grow?

Empower staff to voice their views and involve everyone in defining – and implementing – what sustainability means for the company.

Lizzie has recently won a Points of Light award from the Prime Minister, and has been named Inspiration of the Year by Stylist’s Remarkable Women Awards. Both were awarded for her work through Plastic Patrol. 

Find out more about Plastic Patrol, and how you can volunteer and get involved.