The British Plastics Federation (BPF) spoke out against the BBC nature documentary, which aired on BBC One last Sunday (19 November), saying it was disappointed that the “saddening images” of a dead baby pilot whale in the recent episode of Blue Planet II were linked to plastics with “absolutely no supporting evidence”.
The BPF said it wished to make it unequivocally clear that plastics themselves are not a major source of toxins, persistent organic pollutants (POPs), nor heavy metals found in oceans.
“This is because they are inherently inert,” it says. “Plastics are completely safe when in contact with food or beverages, for example, and have to meet very strict requirements set in food contact legislation at an EU level.
BPF – “Plastics are completely safe when in contact with food or beverages, for example, and have to meet very strict requirements set in food contact legislation at an EU level.”
“The harmful chemicals that are unfortunately present in the sea are not there because of plastics. They are often present due to historical practices, with many of these practices and chemicals now banned under UN and EU regulations.
“Due to their chemical nature, many of these banned chemicals persist in the natural environment for a very long time. Some chemicals that were banned almost 40 years ago are still found today.”
The BPF applauded Malcolm Hudson, associate professor in environmental sciences at Southampton University, for “publicly questioning” the way the whale’s death was presented by the programme.
Hudson said the link between the whale’s death and plastic was “fake news”.
The executive producer of the BBC programme, James Honeyborne, recently stated no autopsy was done on the baby whale.
“To heavily insinuate it was killed by plastics is wrong,” BPF said.
“Poisoned By Plastics”
The chair of the London Assembly’s Environment Committee, Leonie Cooper AM, however, said the episode brought home the “horror” of the situation.
“Last Sunday’s episode of the BBC documentary ‘Blue Planet’ showing a pilot whale and her dead new-born baby really brought home the horror of our oceans being poisoned by plastics,” she said.
“The scenes made many more people aware of how our actions can so detrimentally affect our planet.
London Assembly’s Environment Committee, Leonie Cooper AM – “The scenes made many more people aware of how our actions can so detrimentally affect our planet”
“The London Assembly Environment Committee report ‘Bottled water’, has prompted the Mayor to write to Environment Secretary Michael Gove to request government support for a deposit-return scheme (DRS) pilot in the capital.
“We commend such initiatives and welcome London being a test-bed to explore the range of options available, in a joint effort to eradicate plastic waste. The Mayor is planning to introduce a budget for this from April – so London is poised to move ahead.
“Plastic is difficult to recycle and only 30% of household waste is currently recycled, the rest ends up being burnt, buried or even worse, in our rivers and oceans. We are encouraged by the positive noises made in yesterday’s budget and call on the government to go further – for the sake of our planet.”
The BBC defended the documentary, saying the show did not state “plastics killed the baby whale”, rather that chemical contamination was the cause, and plastics may have played a role in the contamination.
A BBC spokesman said: “The Blue Planet II team were advised by the scientific community across the series, including a number of world experts on chemical and plastic pollution.
“It’s well documented that industrial pollutants accumulate on micro-plastics and that micro-plastics are consumed by a wide variety of sea creatures”
“The facts presented in their research indicate the dead calf could have been poisoned from its mother’s milk due to chemical pollution, and new research shows that plastics could be part of the problem.
“It’s well documented that industrial pollutants accumulate on micro-plastics and that micro-plastics are consumed by a wide variety of sea creatures.
“The latest research is investigating the degree to which plastic could be contributing to the already high levels of chemical pollution in marine life.”
The BPF said: “Plastics are a valuable and highly recyclable resource that should stay productive within the circular economy. They offer unique, functional benefits and reduce food waste, CO2 emissions and protect products in ways no other material can. In reality, the UK is responsible for only 0.2% of marine litter – but we would like to see that figure reduced to zero.
“However, in raising awareness of global environmental issues, falsely linking toxins in the ocean with plastics and the death of a baby whale, is poor film-making and alarmist.
“Plastics are completely safe: they simply need to be disposed of responsibly so that they do not enter the marine environment.”
Plastics & Marine Litter
The news follows the announcement this week that the Government will hold a consultation on taxing and charging “environmentally damaging” single-use plastics.
The consultation will include “packaging and bubble wrap, polystyrene takeaway boxes and throwaway coffee cups”.
The Government also recently announced a consultation that will look into a deposit return system for plastic drinks containers.
Recently released Defra figures show the number of litter items found on the sea floor around the UK has risen 150% in a year.
More than 8m tonnes of plastic are discarded into the world’s oceans each year, putting marine wildlife under serious threat, it says.
Up to 80% of this is estimated to have been originally lost or discarded on land before washing out to sea, and plastic bottles are a particular concern, Defra says – with figures showing just 57% of those sold in the UK in 2016 collected for recycling.