Through seven one-hour episodes of Blue Planet II, 91-year old Sir David Attenborough has not just managed to spark a conversation, but an actual revolution against plastic.

With plastic production set to double in the next 20 years, it’s estimated that by 2050 there’ll be more plastic in the oceans than fish. Heart-breaking footage from Attenborough’s BBC series revealed the damage the material is causing to marine life, triggering a passionate reaction from the public and inspiring all of us to join the conservation efforts.

Environmental consultants Eunomia estimated that the leading supermarket chains are largely responsible for creating a plastic waste problem of more than 800,000 tonnes each year – accounting for well over half of all annual UK household plastic waste. There is hope though: Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven, said: ‘Last month a long list of former heads of Britain’s biggest retail groups wrote a joint statement to explain that the only solution to plastic pollution was for retailers to entirely reject plastic in favour of more sustainable alternatives like recycled paper, steel, glass and aluminium.’

Charities such as Greenpeace continue to influence the way in which the public views ethically irresponsible businesses, however, the growing availability of information online means that shoppers are more aware than ever before of the ethical and environmental impact of the goods and services they’re purchasing. It is clear that consumers are reacting more strongly to businesses that disregard environmental and ethical concerns, with 50% of consumers avoiding purchasing a product based on the company’s responsible reputation according to the Ethical Consumerism Report 2012.

anti plastic movement

A new international study by Unilever reveals that a third of consumers (33%) are now choosing to buy from brands they believe are doing social or environmental good. Eckersley, who set up Earth.Food.Love, the UK’s first ‘zero waste’ shop on Totnes high street in Devon says ‘A lot of new people are coming in – people who have not necessarily been involved in green issues before…it really feels like this concern about plastic waste is starting to break out of the environmental bubble. We are getting calls every week from around the country from people wanting to set up something similar in their towns…it feels like this has really tapped into something that is growing all the time.’

Richard Walker, managing director of the frozen food chain Iceland believes that: ‘The world has woken up to the scourge of plastics’. Iceland is the supermarket retailer leading the way in the UK’s anti-plastic movement, vowing to eliminate all plastic packaging from its own branded products by 2023. The bold commitment comes after increasing world recognition of the damage to our marine environment and ultimately humanity – since we all depend on the oceans for survival.

A survey for Iceland revealed overwhelming public support for the shift away from plastic packaging by retailers, with 80% of the 5,000 people polled saying they would endorse a supermarket’s move to go plastic-free. As concern over the scale of unnecessary plastic waste grows, Walker said ‘It is on retailers, as leading contributors to plastic packaging pollution and waste, to take a stand and deliver meaningful change.’ Iceland’s plastic-free commitments show that powerful retailers can take decisive action to provide what their customers want, without the environment paying for it. Samantha Harding, from the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: ‘Iceland is laying the path that all supermarkets should be following’.

We need to take the momentum David Attenborough has given us and translate it into real action. Last week saw Theresa May joining the anti-plastic movement, placing plastic pollution reduction at the heart of the government’s 25-year environmental plan and calling for all leading supermarkets to introduce plastic-free aisles to offer customers more choice. As Attenborough narrated during the BBC series: ‘we have a responsibility, every one of us, we may think we live a long way from the oceans, but we don’t. What we actually do here, and in the middle of Asia and wherever, has a direct effect on the oceans – and what the oceans do then reflects back on us.’ Francesca Jones

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