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An open letter to Sir David Attenborough

Dear Sir David,

I have absolutely no doubt you are a man of integrity who has contributed in so many ways to raising awareness of the threats to the animal kingdom, our oceans and our environment if we continue with our current way of life, with its inexorable demand for consumption of the Earth’s resources. In particular, you have stressed on several public occasions that, in your opinion, the biggest threat to all of us, every living creature on the planet, is Global warming, an opinion you reiterated once again in this week’s feature in the Sunday Times.

With this in mind, I would be interested to have your thoughts on the alternative materials being used as substitutes for plastic food packaging. These include Paper, Board, Glass and tin, all of which create more packaging waste, generate more CO2 emissions in their manufacture and thus result in more Global warming. They also consume more of the Earth’s resources than the original plastic, as currently, we have a Worldwide economy based on energy derived from fossil fuels. Therefore, it is inevitable that we require oil, it is also a fact that 96% of a barrel of oil is used as Fuel such as Diesel, Petrol, Aero Fuel or Power Generation, all of which unfortunately are single use.

As a consequence, the naptha from which plastic is produced is an inevitable by-products of ‘cracking’ a barrel of oil. Therefore, plastic is a highly desirable productive end use of the 4% by-product of oil not used as energy. Furthermore, if countries invested in the appropriate facilities, we could return all plastic into energy by incineration, or better still, recycling it for reuse, either through mechanical or chemical recycling.

In Blue Planet II, plastic dumped into the World’s oceans and elsewhere, was (quite rightly) highlighted as a problem, not only to the marine environment, but also the mammals, fish and sea birds who inhabit these oceans. This left the viewer in no doubt that the problem was the plastic and not the countries who dump it. As you are aware, these countries are predominantly China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and India who contribute some 85% between them of plastic waste dumped in the oceans.  

However, as a direct consequence of Blue Planet II, along with the subsequent anti-plastic crusade carried out by the BBC Programme ‘War on Plastic’ more and more companies are adopting alternative packaging materials which are heavier and have a larger negative effect on the environment than plastic. As indicated, all of those materials mentioned increase our Greenhouse gas emissions, as well as generating more packaging and food waste. I have no doubt you will be aware that food waste is the 3rd largest contributor Worldwide to greenhouse gasses exceeded only by China and the USA.

Enclosed is a copy of a contribution I made to Packaging Innovations, the UK’s largest Packaging Exhibition, this was in response to a discussion regarding the impact on the UK Packaging Industry of Blue Planet II.

My contribution was based on the information included in the following reports;

  1. A) House of Commons Environmental Food & Rural Affairs Report (Sept 2019)
  2. B) Green Alliance ‘Plastic Promises’ Report (Jan 2020)
  3. C) Institute for Energy & Environmental Research (Feb 2020)
  4. D) British Plastics Federation Report (June 2019)
  5. E) Truscott ‘Plastics & Sustainability’ Report for UN (updated 2019)
  6. F) Axion Consulting Reflex Project (June 2016)

All of these reports found, (some more than others) that replacing plastic packaging with any of the alternative materials mentioned will simply cost us more, both environmentally and financially. Whilst compostable / biodegradable substitutes simply contaminate the recycling stream.

Thus, plastic replacement is one of the unintended consequences of the vilification of plastic in Blue Planet II. Surely it would have been much wiser for the programme to name and shame those countries who are using the World’s oceans as a dumping ground for their waste. Unfortunately, as mentioned, the BBC then produced their ‘War on Plastic’ programme which simply compounded the anti-plastic prejudice. Again, I am sure you agree, all the science shows replacing plastic for packaging creates more Greenhouse gas emissions, more Global warming and more depletion of the Earth’s resources, along with more waste.

International action is needed to stop these countries dumping plastic and other waste in the oceans, then more investment Worldwide in collection separation and recycling of plastic, not its replacement. You are the ideal person to bring this problem and its solution to the World’s attention. You could focus more Government activity in the UK and elsewhere on funding collection, separation and recycling of all plastic. This can be done, this needs to be done and you are the best person to do it.    

Finally, I should add, our company is a distributor, we will provide customers with whichever packaging material they choose, what we will not do is to propagate the myth that the alternative material chosen is ‘Good for the Environment’.

Yours sincerely



As always should any of our readers have any thoughts on this letter, I would welcome your views and meanwhile, why not join me on LinkedIn for more regular contact.



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Paul Sangwin

A nicely balanced and respecful letter Barry. I look forward to reading the response.

Dermot Gates

I fully support your views, our decisions on the most suitable packaging should be driven by the science rather than PR, marketing or politics. Do the right thing rather than what appears to be the politically correct thing.

Ken Mitchell

Thanks for taking the time to make these very important points Barry. It is clear that much of the information supplied to us the public by the press are headline grabbing sound bites that have little, or more likely, no science behind them. I too will be interested to see if you receive a response and if high profile figures, such as Mr Attenborough, are prepared to at least engage with the science and facts in a meaningful discussion. Please keep up the good work!

Simon Bailey

I was wondering if you have some sources for the section: 'These include Paper, Board, Glass and tin, all of which create more packaging waste, generate more CO2 emissions in their manufacture and thus result in more Global warming.' It'll be interesting to see the differences. Thanks

June hamilton

It is widely reported that Sir David Attenborough does not like email and prefers to receive letters by post. How can I send him a letter please, does anyone have a postal address? It’s important. June Hamilton (email above)

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