Plastic is the new devil, with an increasing proportion of the UK population woke to the environmental damage caused by single-use plastic bags, straws, food packaging, wet wipes...the list goes on. It’s no wonder that a new documentary on the topic has stirred up debate and shocked viewers. Drowning In Plastic, which aired on BBC One last night, provided a devastating insight into the world’s ocean plastic pollution crisis, which was eye-opening enough to rival Blue Planet 2.
Presented by wildlife biologist Liz Bonnin, the 90-minute programme focuses largely on the impact of plastic on marine life. There’s heartbreaking footage of seabirds on a remote island off the coast of Australia, 90% of which have ingested plastic and are left unable to fly, and gradually feeding their chicks to death with plastic. When one three-month-old chick vomits into a bowl, 20 pieces of plastic emerge, which we’re told is actually unusually low – the record number of pieces found is 260.
It also lays bare the horrifying extent of the crisis in a bid to raise awareness: Already, plastic has been found at the deepest natural point in the world (the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific Ocean) and the North Pole. Microplastics have found their way into every part of the food chain. And perhaps most alarmingly of all, if plastic pollution continues at the current rate, there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050.
If plastic pollution continues at the current rate, there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050.
Thankfully there’s some optimism to be found among the doom and gloom. Bonnin meets scientists and inventors working at the forefront of plastics research and delves into some of the potential solutions. It’s notable that some of the inventors with the most original ideas in this arena are millennials: there’s a 25-year-old Indonesian man who’s created a seaweed alternative to plastic packaging, and a 24-year-old Dutch man whose Pac Man-esque invention roams the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (which is three times bigger than France), gobbling up plastic as it goes.
Watching a documentary like Drowning In Plastic, filmed in locations as far-flung as the Coral Triangle (which stretches from Papua New Guinea to the Solomon Islands) and the Australian coast, it’s easy to feel detached, and as if our daily consumption in the UK bears little relevance. But Bonnin takes pains to bridge this disconnect: "Can you believe this is what goes on when we carry on with our lives?" she asks through tears as a plastic net is removed from a dead seal pup’s neck.
Many viewers on social media said the show left them feeling saddened and exasperated by the situation, and while a large proportion said on Twitter that it left them feeling hopeless, many also said it motivated them to do something about the problem.
Still in shock after watching #DrowninginPlastic. THIS is the real deal guys. THIS is what WE have let happen. It isn't too late to turn the tide but we need to act now. @lizbonnin you were fantastic and@AmieLusher... well what can I say. You're an inspiration! 🌊💙— Rachel Linaker 🌊 (@rachandthesea) October 1, 2018
Holy Shit, this programme was shocking and l admit l have never recycled any plastic or cared about my use of it before tonight, that all changes from tomorrow. Thank you for your hard work and for bringing this to our attention @lizbonnin #DrowningInPlastic— Mick McCool (@MickMcCool) October 1, 2018
Moved to tears so many times by ‘Drowning in plastic’ on BBC One tonight. Following on from the insight brought by ‘Blue Planet 2’ it really is astonishing in the worst, heart breaking way. Make your plastic action pledge. #DrowningInPlastic https://t.co/ytGMcMJcKl— Abby Riddell (@ARPerformer) October 1, 2018
Some users took the opportunity to tweet plastic-saving tips that can be easily applied to our everyday lives – and we've been inspired to follow suit.
So what can you do now.#DrowingInPlastic— #2minutebeachclean 💙🌍 (@2minbeachclean) October 1, 2018
No single use.
Use a canteen.
No take away coffee cups.
Buy a forever cup.
Use a Guppy bag in your machine.
Use a cotton shopping bag.
Say no. Shout loud. Tell them.
Together we can make a difference 💙🌍https://t.co/lFBh57zPGq pic.twitter.com/bdKFtx8DEX
#drowninginplastic next steps!— Catherine Gemmell (@cathgem2000) October 1, 2018
1. Right now: follow everyone @lizbonnin mentioned tonight!
2.) Tomorrow - tell everyone about what you saw
3.) This weekend get a reusable cup/bottle/bag
4.) This year make your voice heard on the beach, by the river & in government!#BeTheChange pic.twitter.com/xSydGBgXNZ