City to Sea’s Rebecca Burgess on how to create a sustainable and inclusive city

Laura Ross
Marketing Executive - Membership
24th June 2019

As part of the Initiative’s efforts to build on the vision articulated in 2050: High in Hope, we are asking members to consider how we can create a sustainable and inclusive city. At our June Initiative evening, we spoke to Rebecca Burgess, CEO of City to Sea to get her perspective.

Tell us a little about yourself; your job role and your career background?

My husband Oli and I moved to Bristol over two years ago to be closer to our families – mine are based in the Midlands and his in Cornwall. Bristol seemed to be the perfect spot! Having good friends already in Bristol meant we knew in advance that the City would make a great new home for us.  

I’m truly passionate about helping businesses balance profit and purpose, so when the opportunity to join City to Sea as Head of Partnerships came up in April 2018, I jumped at the chance. After a few busy months managing their growing network of businesses, I was appointed to the board as Commercial Director and stepped into the role as Chief Executive as of December, to oversee our growing team and build on the incredible success we’ve seen in recent years. 

Prior to City to Sea, I worked at Bristol based consultancy Eunomia. It was through working with the European Commission on their Plastic Strategy, that I felt inspired to do more in the fight against single-use plastic. I took the plunge to work freelance in 2016 when I first moved to Bristol, after 10 years shaping sector leading CSR programmes with a variety of companies and not-for-profits. 

Tell us about your business and your vision as a company?

City to Sea is an award-winning not-for-profit campaigning to prevent plastic pollution at source.  Through our fun, solutions-focused initiatives we’re empowering individuals to make a difference in their communities, working with companies and retailers to help them tackle plastic pollution and reaching millions of people with our digital content and campaigns.

Having piloted Refill in Bristol as part of Bristol’s year as European Green Capital in 2015 and with the support of Bristol Water, it is now the UK's leading drinking water campaign. Our Refill App has been downloaded over 145,000 times and was awarded Gold at the prestigious Global Good Awards in 2018. In 2017 we convinced all major retailers in the UK to #SwitchTheStick, switching the cotton bud sticks from plastic to paper – saving over 6 billion plastic cotton buds flooding our water ways. 

Our mission is to connect our actions to the oceans, by giving people and businesses from all backgrounds simple ways to make a significant difference. We believe that by 'connecting our actions to our oceans' we can safeguard our seas for the future. Our vision is for the world's waterways and coastlines to be strewn with sticks, sand and seaweed … not plastic!

What might a sustainable and inclusive city look like?

One rubbish truck full of plastic is discarded into our oceans every minute, every day. And this is expected to double in the next five years. Plastic is polluting every river and sea around the world and increasingly impacting the animals that inhabit them.

The EU Plastic Strategy is a huge step forward and the latest commitment from Canada to become single-use plastic free by 2021 is a clear sign of things to come. Bristol could lead the way in the UK to become a truly sustainable city is becoming single-use plastic free also. 

I would like to see Bristol promote and encourage the growth of more refill, reuse and repair shops and community sharing schemes across the City. In 2017 an e-petition for a Citywide Ban on Single Use Disposable Plastics was signed by over 4,000 people and in 2018 a full council debate was convened to discuss this matter. Could 2019 be the year a commitment is made? 

In your view, what do we need to do to get there? 

Banning the sale and distribution of plastic water bottles would be a great step in the right direction also. After all, we have some of the highest quality drinking water in the world. San Francisco has already done this across their city-owned properties, so Bristol can. 

Bristol can no longer rest on the green credentials formed back in 2015 as part of European Green Capital. The rest of the UK is fast catching up and we all must try harder. We must work together, as one city, to have a truly impactful and sustainable future. We are proud to be a Bristol-based organisation and want to continue to see Bristol lead the way in the UK and globally.

What steps can the business community take to get there?

Businesses should learn from Bristol-headquartered retailer Boston Tea Party. They were the first coffee chain to ban all single use coffee cups and are now making a commitment to go single-use free from 2020. 

Businesses should also encourage and test new innovations around deposit return schemes for coffee cups, lunchboxes and bar cups across the City. They can do this by working with City to Sea and supporting our campaigns, like Refill, to drive up reuse and plastic-free alternatives. After all half of all plastic produced globally every year is single use. 


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