Column: When plastic is not so fantastic it’s time to change

Kirsty Paterson is trying to make a change.
Kirsty Paterson is trying to make a change.

What does it say about a problem when the presenter of a documentary can hardly hold back the tears?

This wasn’t some celebrity in Comic Relief or Children in Need where tears are almost obligatory.

No, this was a respected scientist – a wildlife biologist called Liz Bonnin – who was investigating the scale of the plastic crisis in the ocean. More importantly, in Drowning in Plastic, she was asking what we are going to do about it.

Documentaries such as this and David Attenborough’s majestic Blue Planet know that statistics don’t change anything, no matter how shocking they are.

Yeah, it’s estimated that there are 51 trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean and that’s shock... ooh, look, a meal deal with millionaire shortbread cheescake! That’ll do tonight’s tea.

But the sight of tiny seabirds choking on jagged pieces of plastic? That’s harder to take and is making us ask, what can we do?

It’s a question I often ask myself as I look at my rubbish bin and despair.

I have two boys who consume ice-lollies as if they are terrified the freezer will stop working and eat crisps as if they’re never given a proper meal. (Please note, they are.)

There are things I could change (buying bamboo toothbrushes), things I should change (stop eating crisps) and things I have changed (fruit and veg now bought from a local shop that only uses paper bags).

But the scale of the problem is overwhelming.

And the truth is it is almost impossible to shop without buying plastic – it’s in everything from toothpaste to teabags.

That has to change and governments must take the lead. Cutting out the crisps just isn’t enough, I’m afraid.