My journey in the world of plastic pollution really all started in 2009, when I joined the Plastic Oceans Foundation following a meeting at the launch party for the BBC series, LIFE. People were beginning to talk about a huge floating island of plastic in the Pacific twice the size of Texas. Was that possible? Why couldn’t we see it from space? Whilst this media myth perpetuated for some years, the scale and impact of the ‘plastic problem’ was still largely ignored.
Trying to encourage supermarkets and plastic producers to change their ways for the benefit of the environment was a hopeless task, but one that we enthusiastically and, often frustratingly, embarked upon. This was the beginning of an eight-year journey of fundraising and film making that culminated in the production of the documentary film A Plastic Ocean in 2017. It was a film that would open the eyes of the world. The years that followed saw a surge in public awareness. Not only was there a rise in grass root organisations and environmental activism, but the problems facing the earth’s oceans had become part of public discourse.
However, while there has indeed been a rise in awareness, our plastic consumption continues to rise. Global production in 2018 was 359 million tonnes, an increase of 3.1% on the previous year. As the population of the planet increases, it seems that our reliance on plastics, and single use plastics in particular, will continue to spiral out of control.
It could be argued, very simplistically, that the plastic pollution problem comes down to two things: poor or inadequate waste management and human behaviour. The former will need to be resolved by changes and investment in processes, science and technology, by the development of viable alternatives and new innovation, as well as by the introduction of legislation to promote extended producer responsibility. The latter requires fundamental changes in our perception and behaviour both as producers and consumers. Let’s examine those ideas in more detail.
We need to invest in science, because it is critical in developing policy and bringing about change.