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UWA and me

My journey since studying at UWA certainly didn’t evolve as I had planned. Due to a death in my immediate family, plans for overseas work and further study were put on hold. I’ve worked in government and as a consultant on projects ranging from catchment mapping to community consultation to underwater surveys of abalone populations. An interest in sustainable living led to working as a waste educator in Perth’s western suburbs and starting Plastic Free July. I have since had the opportunity to explore the plastic pollution problem and participate in research expeditions in the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans. Though I’ve never worked as a scientist, the ability to evaluate information and read research papers has been critical to developing my understanding of the plastic pollution issue and ability to develop big picture solutions.

Accidental campaigner

I didn’t mean to start a campaign. It started from wanting to change my own behaviour after visiting a recycling facility and seeing the huge amount of household waste and the complex, energy intensive process to recycle it. It’s grown from a handful of participants in Perth in 2011 through to millions of participants across more than 150 countries worldwide. Plastic Free July is now an independent, not-for-profit charitable foundation with the vision of a world without plastic waste. It’s really promising to see this issue becoming mainstream, with businesses engaging in the challenge with their employees and reducing single-use plastics in their supply chains.

An indigestible truth

The plastic pollution problem is difficult to comprehend. I cant even imagine my children eating a single piece of plastic let alone comprehending the plight of the flesh-footed shearwaters on Lord Howe Island where scientists have found up to 274 plastic fragments in a single chick’s stomach. Whilst plastics are inarguably a useful material, increasing production particularly for single-use items, challenges in waste management and their lightweight nature means they can easily become litter. We are never going to be able to recycle our way out of this problem. We need to reduce it at the source. If our kitchen is flooding we don’t grab a mop and bucket, we first turn off the tap. Small daily actions to reduce single-use plastic can add up to a collective impact.

Words of wisdom for new students

It is ok to feel overwhelmed or out of your comfort zone – others probably feel the same. Every journey starts with one step so be open to where this journey will take you.

DRebecca Prince-Ruiz BSc '91, Executive Director and Founder, Plastic Free July FoundationRebecca Prince-Ruiz is the founder of the 'for-purpose' Plastic Free July Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation that brings the public and business together with the vision of a world without plastic waste.

Rebecca has 25 years of experience in environmental and waste management, community engagement and sustainability behaviour change. She has taken part in plastic pollution research expeditions in Queensland, the Cocos Islands and the North Atlantic Ocean; and worked alongside internationally renowned organisations during a recent Churchill Fellowship.

One of Rebecca's current projects is helping to structure the Western Australian plastic bag ban, which came into effect on 1 July 2018, working with the Boomerang Alliance, the State government’s community co-design partner.

A seasoned public speaker, she has been invited to present on the Plastic Free July challenge, waste avoidance, plastic pollution, and behaviour change in Australia, New Zealand, USA and the UK. Her speaking covers a wide range of settings, from inspiring international leaders to initiate change through to working with communities to clean up their local environment.

For future speaking opportunities and project collaboration, please contact Rebecca at

You can learn plastic-free strategies and keep up-to-date with Plastic Free July on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Header photo: Rebecca studying plastic in Bristol by Cassar Photography. Bio photo: by the Swan River, Perth by Tres Art Collective.