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BBC Impartiality & The Case for Single Use Plastic

Dear Lord Hall,

BBC Impartiality & The Case for Single Use Plastic

Before you leave office, could you please reconsider the BBC’s coverage of Plastics and the Environment.

Currently, the BBC claim that impartiality ‘Lies at the heart of its commitment to its audience’ and I am sure that your production teams try their best to remain objective. In these circumstances, the question must be asked.

Why does this policy not apply when reporting about plastic?

Please consider the following programmes presentation of plastic in their content and then consider the lack of impartiality of the presentation.

Blue Planet II

The demonisation of plastic material started here. The viewer was shown a scuba diver swimming through a sea of floating plastic waste and told by Sir David Attenborough ‘We are all responsible.’ However, the facts are that 90% of all plastic waste in the World’s oceans comes from just 10 rivers and 8 countries, China (40%) is the largest polluter, followed by the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and India also the major culprits.

Europe (in total) is responsible for an estimated 1% of plastic waste in the oceans, with the UK estimated to contribute some 0.2%, mostly from fishing gear and discarded waste from sea traffic.

Yet throughout the programme, Sir David referred to the problem as being due to ‘Plastic’ (the material) without any reference to the origins of the plastic waste, nor condemnation of those countries responsible for dumping their waste. Leaving the viewer to conclude that the material (plastic) was the problem and not the countries that dumped their waste in the oceans.

Blue Planet II then went on to show a mother whale grieving over her stillborn calf, with Sir David informing the viewer that the calf had probably died due to contamination of its mother’s milk by plastic! No evidence was presented to support this allegation. No autopsy took place and this was later admitted by the BBC Production Team. Meanwhile, a prominent marine biologist commented he had never heard of this happening and chemical pollution and / or natural causes were much more likely to have been the case. This was hardly impartial reporting!

Blue Planet II took 4 years to make and 4000 hours of filming, yet there were no signs of any plastic in any other episode. Nevertheless, the viewer was led to believe that the oceans, the fish, the birds, are overwhelmed with plastic waste and this was solely due to the material, not the polluters. 

War on Plastic

The BBC then continued its ‘War on Plastic’, with the 3-part peak time series of that name. This claimed, and I quote, ‘Plastic Pollutes every aspect of our lives’ and then went on to suggest its replacement, wherever possible, is beneficial to the environment.’

This is patently untrue!

I draw your attention to the article by Roger Harrabin, your own BBC Science & Environmental Reporter, published Jan 9th 2020.

His report on the House of Commons Cross Parliamentary Group findings, clearly said ‘Companies changing packaging materials from plastic be they paper, glass, board or tin, are potentially increasing damage to the environment’. 

The reason being that the alternative materials to plastic use more of the Earth’s resources and generate more CO2 emissions in their manufacture. As a consequence, they not only add to Global Warming, but create more packaging and food waste than when replacing plastic.

A recent EU Institute of Energy & Environmental Research Report concludes ‘Replacing alternative materials with plastic would reduce the EU’s total CO2 emissions from packaging by 33% and its packaging waste by 22 million tonnes.

Yet, the BBC War on Plastic series specifically advocated such replacement. At no point did they highlight the increase in Global Warming that occurs when replacing plastic. Surely this cannot be claimed by the BBC to be impartial reporting?

Finally, The NHS fight against Coronavirus

Currently the NHS is using 1 billion items per week of ‘Single Use Plastic’ in its fight against the virus. This PPE includes gowns, over shoes, masks, visors, gloves, etc. There is Worldwide demand for PPE on a similar scale. Therefore, single use plastic is making a major contribution to the medical profession’s response to the virus.

The Sunday Times, The Guardian and The Daily Express have all produced articles in praise of single use plastics and their contribution to this fight to combat the virus. What has been the response of the BBC Producers? Have we seen prime time programmes praising the role of plastic or indeed any mention of its role? Unfortunately, they are conspicuous by their absence. If impartiality is core to the BBC ethos, now is the time to demonstrate this. Plastic is only polluting when discarded indiscriminately by its users. Thus, the beneficial way it is being used and discarded correctly by the NHS would be a great way for the BBC to show what should be done with plastic and that it can be objective in its reporting.    

I look forward to having your views.

Yours sincerely

Barry Twigg


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Nick Simpson

I have always questioned the BBC’s impartiality when covering plastics

Stephen Fletcher

I have always questioned the BBC's impartiality full stop!!

Eddie Thurloway

This is one of many instances of lazy journalism where uninformed opinion is presented as fact as it is much easier to jump on a bandwagon than undertake research.

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