The world’s population is beginning to change its attitude towards plastic waste and the damage it causes, broadcaster Sir David Attenborough has commented.
Awareness of the threat caused by plastic pollution is spreading, he said, with the public demonstrating that they care about the issue and want to make changes.
Sir David made the comments as he and the BBC were announced as the winners of the 2019 Chatham House Prize for improving international relations.
The award was granted in recognition of their Blue Planet II documentary series, which highlighted the problems than plastic pollution is causing the natural world.
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The world’s population is beginning to change its attitude towards plastic waste and the damage it causes, broadcaster Sir David Attenborough has commented
“I think we’re all shifting our behaviour, I really do,’ Sir David told the BBC.
‘People in all parts of society are aware of what’s happening,’ he added.
‘It’s vile, it’s horrid and it’s something we are clearly seeing inflicted on the natural world and having a dreadful effect and there’s something [we] can do about it.’
‘So in a way it’s a bit of a litmus test to see if the population care about it — and people do.’
‘I think we are changing our habits, and the world is waking up to what we’ve done to the planet,’ he concluded.
Sir David made the remarks as he and the BBC Studios Natural History Unit were announced as the winners of the 2019 Chatham House Prize.
The annual award from the London-based foreign affairs think tank is awarded to individuals or organisations for contributions to improving international relations.
Sir David and colleagues were recognised for their production of the ‘Blue Planet II’ documentary series, which aired in late 2017 and early 2018.
Other nominees for this year’s award included Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, for his progressive leadership, as well as Icelandic Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir for her work in the areas of gender equality and female economic inclusion.
Sir David — pictured here with a leatherback turtle — and colleagues were recognised for their production of the ‘Blue Planet II’ documentary series, which aired in late 2017 and early 2018
Chatham House director Robin Niblett told the BBC that plastic pollution is ‘one of the gravest challenges facing the world’s oceans.
He added that the Sir David and his colleagues have served ‘an instrumental role in helping to put this issue at the forefront of the public agenda.’
‘Blue Planet II spurred a passionate global response and generated clear behavioural and policy change.’
The series shined a spotlight on how much plastic waste — currently estimated at around 150 million tonnes — is presently drifting around the world’s oceans.
Experts believe that this debris is causing around one million birds and 100,000 sea mammals to perish every year.
In one of the series’ more poignant scenes, zoologist Lucy Quinn of the British Antarctic Survey discovers that albatrosses have been accidentally feeding their young bits of plastic waste, rather than food.
Some of the birds regurgitated this material — which included food packaging, cling film and parts of plastic bottles — while one chick had died from injuries resulting from it having swallowed a plastic toothpick.
In one of the Blue Planet II series’ more poignant scenes, zoologist Lucy Quinn of the British Antarctic Survey, pictured, discovers that albatrosses have been accidentally feeding their young bits of plastic waste, rather than food
The documentaries have ‘struck a chord’ by revealing ‘the interaction of plastic and the natural world,’ the Natural History Unit’s head, Julian Hector, told his BBC colleagues.
‘We’re emotionally engaging the audience, giving them a connection with life histories, the behaviours, the plans that these animals have got, and how plastic in that case is getting in their way, reducing their chicks’ survival,’ he added.
This is a sentiment shared by Sir David, who said that such distressing sight are ‘very powerful’ and ‘speak to parental instinct’ as they encourage viewers to take action to reduce the plastic used in their daily lives.
Despite the public’s changing perceptions of plastic, Sir David did note that new techniques for handling plastic waste are much needed.
‘We still need to know how to dispose of the wretched material,’ he said.
‘Surely if we can invent it, somebody somewhere is going to be able to deal with it, to deal with these mountains of this appalling material.’
WHAT DOES DEEP-SEA DEBRIS DATABASE REVEAL ABOUT OCEAN PLASTIC POLLUTION?
Plastic pollution is a scourge that is ravaging the surface of our planet. Now, the polluting polymer is sinking down to the bottom of the ocean.
The deepest part of the ocean is found in the Mariana Trench, located in the western Pacific Ocean, to the east of the Mariana Islands. It stretches down nearly 36,100 feet (11,000 metres) below the surface.
One plastic bag was found 35,754 feet (10,898 metres) below the surface in this region, the deepest known piece of human-made pollution in the world. This single-use piece of plastic was found deeper than 33 Eiffel towers, laid tip to base, would reach.
Whilst the plastic pollution is rapidly sinking, it is also spreading further into the middle of the oceans. A piece of plastic was found over 620 miles (1,000 km) from the nearest coast – that’s further than the length of France.
The Global Oceanographic Data Center (Godac) of the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (Jamstec) launched for public use in March 2017.
In this database, there is the data from 5,010 different dives. From all of these different dives, 3,425 man-made debris items were counted.
More than 33 per cent of the debris was macro-plastic followed by metal (26 per cent), rubber (1.8 per cent), ﬁshing gear (1.7 per cent), glass (1.4 per cent), cloth/paper/lumber (1.3 per cent), and ‘other’ anthropogenic items (35 per cent).
It was also discovered that of all the waste found, 89 per cent of it was designed for single-use purposes. This is defined as plastic bags, bottles and packages. The deeper the study looked, the greater the amount of plastic they found.
Of all man-made items found deeper than 20,000 feet (6,000 metres), the ratios increased to 52 per cent for macro-plastic and 92 per cent for single-use plastic.
The direct damage this caused to the ecosystem and environment is clear to see as deep-sea organisms were observed in the 17 per cent of plastic debris images taken by the study.