Urban areas such as cities and metropolises have an important role to play in reducing plastic pollution, specifically that from plastic bottles. These items that we see laying on the sidewalks, in gutters and along the sides of roads get swept up in streams of runoff, entering the water column mostly through sewers, and eventually dump into the ocean. This is how, from even hundreds of miles away, urban plastic waste is devastatingly polluting our marine environments.

Surfrider has identified 5 key actions that every city should implement to reduce their plastic pollution. This “Best Practice Guide” is intended primarily as a resource for local authorities and decision makers, but also for citizens to stay informed and active in the discussions surrounding these growing issues.

1. Reduce bottle consumption at the source

The best waste is the one that was never created. By encouraging citizens to choose sustainable alternatives over plastic bottles, cities can play a vital role in reducing plastic waste. Cities may implement legislation restricting or banning plastic bottles in their institutions or at events.

Concord, Massachusetts (USA)

Since 2013, the city of Concord has completely banned the sale of still water bottles of less than 1L and the sale of plastic bottles at sporting events.

2. Promote alternative solutions

By increasing access to clean drinking water, including fountains, cities are encouraging citizens to use reusable water bottles. Providing advantages on both an ecological and economical level, bottled water is between 100 and 300 times more expensive than tap water.

London (UK)

The ‘Refill London' campaign provides access to public drinking water by installing more fountains around the city and encouraging businesses to become free water access points.

3. Improve design and promote ecodesign

We must rethink the life cycle of products and consider the end of life of a product during its design. Ecodesign enters a logic of circular economy by integrating, from the beginning, the idea of reuse and recycling.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica has decided to invest in research and development to improve the ecodesign of single-use plastics, starting with plastic bottles.

4. Improve end of life

The reduction of existing plastic bottles in the environment requires an optimization of waste collection. Thus public authorities must establish efficient and innovative infrastructures, collection and sorting systems. Increasingly more cities are adopting a deposit system.


Since 2005, Estonia has implemented a € 0.10 deposit system on plastic bottles. It is one of the most efficient in Europe with a recycling rate of 90% for plastic bottles.

5. Inform and educate citizens

To make a lasting change it is necessary to move from a mass consumer society to one that operates sustainably and responsibly. The close-knit framework of a city enables unrestricted lines of communication with citizens to raise awareness and educat citizens about plastic bottle pollution and solutions.

The means available to cities

Urban areas possess large platforms to communicate and raise awareness to mass audiences such as large physical displays, digital communication tools, and dedicated events. They also have the infrastructure to implement eco-product labeling and transmission of information to the consumer.

We must work together to drive change at every level. To learn about more best practices, read our full guide for cities and citizens.

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