In the News

Making A Meal Of Single-use Plastic

Alice Griffiths

20th September 2022

Cognitive dissonance is a wonderful thing when it comes to the environment, isn’t it? When the David Attenborough's Blue Planet II pointed a camera at ocean plastic pollution in 2017, it was a ‘media moment’ for the conservation movement. But, not a decisive one.

Viewers were shocked by the impact of our plastic detritus on the marine world, not least on an albatross who had eaten its fill of plastic rubbish as revealed by British Antarctic Survey scientist Lucy Quinn in this BBC clip.

So, what happened next? A 2020 study by social scientists from Imperial College suggested that while Blue Planet II’s imagery promoted greater environmental awareness amongst members of the general public, it didn’t actually impact on whether they chose to avoid snacks and drinks involving single-use plastics.

Similarly, while we might a small environmental effort, by taking a ‘bag for life’ to the supermarket (particularly since 2015 when there was a charge for bags), what we buy is more often than not wrapped or sealed in plastic. The results of GreenPeace’s 2022 Big Plastic Count, published in July, show 96 billion pieces of plastic packaging are thrown away each year in the UK, and the majority of it is linked to food and drink. What’s more this instructive example of crowd-sourced data demonstrated that only 12% of UK plastic waste is recycled. (It’s 9% globally, according to the World Bank).

The BIG problem with single-use or so-called disposable plastic stems from ‘the mismatch of material science and product design’; a neat turn of phrase coined by serial ocean skipper and environmentalist Emily Penn in her popular presentation about ocean plastics and their impacts worldwide. You may have a student investigating this stuff for their EPQ. If so, they need to listen to hear her story about the plastic problem.

Alternatively, this (below) is also a great inspirational 'gap year' video, from TEDxYouth@Bath.

Alice Griffiths

Alice Griffiths has taught Geography over a period of almost twenty years. She is a published author and editor of a wide range of A level resources and has created award-winning, online content for younger students. An occasional presenter at the GA’s annual conference, she was head of department at an 11-18 school until 2020.

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