Ayesha Cantrell
Ayesha Cantrell

Mar 01. 2 mins

Sir David Attenborough Brings The Plastic Crisis Into The Mainstream

With the airing of the final episode of BBC’s Blue Planet II, Sir David Attenborough pushed the environmental impact of single-use plastic into the mainstream. Before this episode, you would’ve had a hard time finding anyone who wasn’t a diver or active ocean enthusiast who either knew or cared. In the UK over 11 million armchair ocean enthusiasts tuned in, the episode shows a female whale unwilling to let go of her dead calf. Sir David explains that the calf’s death is most likely attributed to drinking its mother’s milk which is so contaminated that it’s toxic to her young. Heartbreaking stuff but suddenly 11 million more people who will see single-use plastic in a very different way.

“Unless the flow of plastics and industrial pollution into the ocean is reduced, marine life will be poisoned by them for many centuries to come.” Sir David Attenborough.

What the episode didn’t cover was the true scale of the problem; humans have barely been producing plastic for 100 years, but every single piece of plastic that has been made is still in existence. Think about it.

  • Today we produce 150 million tons of single-use plastic items a year.

  • Annually 8 million tons of plastic ends up in our oceans which is equivalent to the weight of 22 Empire State Buildings.
  • 500 billion plastic bags are used every year which is 1 million plastic bags every 15 minutes.
  • 57 billion plastic water bottles were sold in the US in 2014.

How does this connect with a dead infant whale? Plastic doesn’t decompose like organic material. It breaks down into microplastic. Organisms at the bottom of the food chain consume these tiny particles. The toxicity concentrates as progressively larger animals consume those that have eaten microplastic. Sobering stuff for fish eaters – humans included.

It takes somewhere between 10-20 years for a plastic bag to disintegrate to microplastic level, and in that time it’s caused more problems for marine life. Many creatures accidentally consume plastic believing it to be food. Their systems can’t digest it, so it sits in their stomachs. The more plastics they eat, the less room there is for actual nutrition, the result being that they starve with a stomach full of plastic; this happens to whales, turtles, albatross and many more creature. The worst thing is that the dead animal decomposes and releases the killer plastic back into the ocean to kill again.

The good news is that the horror of that episode hit home and an environmental movement that’s been struggling on the fringes has finally been placed front and center. Governments are talking, and people are considering packaging and single-use plastic like never before. As the series plays out across the world, we can hope for more positives.

The biggest change is the one we take responsibility for making ourselves and stop using single-use plastic. There’s no excuse for using plastic bags or straws or buying bottled water. Cutting them out is easy, invest in a reusable bag and refillable bottle and refuse straws, and let your friends know why you are doing this.

The revolution has begun – be part of it.

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