Davos and why Blue Planet II was mistaken about plastic
“What we do in the next few years will affect our environment for the next few thousand”
These words when spoken by Sir David Attenborough, when receiving the award for services to the environment at Davos, made me reflect on the alternative message Sir David had delivered to the world in Blue Planet II.
As at Davos he was referring in quite apocalyptic terms to the damage being done to the world’s environment by climate change, melting the ice caps, raising sea levels, killing coral reefs plus prolonged droughts and water shortages in many parts of the world caused by ever increasing CO₂ emissions.
Obviously, Sir David was right to emphasise the environmental damage caused by climate change but over time how much will he personally have added to the problem by Blue Planet II?
This programme took over 4 years of filming with thousands of hours of film produced, yet only in the very last chapter did we see any trace of ‘plastic’ pollution
This programme showed a mass of plastic (mostly packaging) floating in the ocean, to the point where the cameraman could hardly move without coming into contact with plastic waste
No one with any concern for the world in which we live could be anything but horrified by the scene. BUT Sir David did not tell us where the filming took place, where the problem originated or what we could do to help resolve the problem.
As a consequence the public in countries around the world were left with the impression that beneath the waves of our oceans there is a heaving mass of plastic waste. This is simply not true, nevertheless, the response by governments in the developed world was predictable and thus began the ‘war on plastic’.
It is not suggested that the world should not have been made aware of this massive plastic pollution but that it should have been made obvious it arises primarily because a handful of countries in the world have a deliberate waste disposal programme of simply dumping their domestic waste into their rivers and seas, creating the foul underwater scenes that shocked the viewers.
But this was not transmitted and the unfortunate “law of unintended consequences” prevailed thus plastic was the problem and plastic replacement was the answer.
As each week, month and year goes by we are seeing more companies replacing plastic, particularly packaging that not only adds to climate change but uses more of the earth’s precious resources.
Paper, board, glass, aluminium all generate more CO₂ emissions in their manufacture. Even when recycled glass and aluminium generate more CO₂ than using virgin plastic film. Whilst 80% of plastic, including 100% of plastic bottles, are recyclable so why consider substitution?
As for biodegradable and/or compostable packaging like paper and board, the water and land used in their production and CO₂ emissions generated in their manufacture, is hardly a good use of precious resources (I must add we are happy to supply any environmental film).
Finally, the question of food waste has to be considered. Methane emissions are 20 times more toxic than CO₂ and thus a greater contributor to climate change. But, methane is generated when perishable foods decompose. 30% of all food purchased in Western society is thrown away creating enormous greenhouse gas problems. If this food waste was a country it would be the third largest contributor. Plastic packaging allied to gas flushing is without doubt the most efficient method of prolonging the shelf life of perishable foods and thus reducing methane emissions, whilst countries which don’t have the benefit of this packaging technology have up to double the volume of food waste.
In summary, Sir David’s speech at Davos could have included
- A criticism of those countries that dump their waste in the oceans (China, India, Indonesia and Vietnam are the majors)
- A promotion of plastic packaging as a sure way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and conserving the use of the worlds environmental resources
I am sure “on reflection” Sir David would be the first to agree with these sentiments.
As ever your thoughts on any of these items would be welcome. Meanwhile why not join me on LinkedIn?