The Attenborough Effect – Making Sustainability Trendy


No-one knew just how successful Blue Planet would be, and no-one could have anticipated the surge of people that are now becoming interested in sustainability in the aftermath that has been recently dubbed as ‘The Attenborough Effect’.

The series revealed the true extent of plastic pollution in the marine environment, with emotional images such as a pilot whale with her (presumed) dead calf who had been poisoned by a build up of plastics in the mother’s milk, and birds dying from something as simple as ingesting a plastic toothpick. The programme seems to have struck a chord with the general public, as more and more people are now searching for sustainable options and making an effort to care for the planet. Even if it’s one small change, if enough people do it, it makes a big difference.

David Attenborough, now 91, has made many natural history programmes and documentaries over his 50 years on screen. In the final episode of the series, Attenborough left viewers with a poignant message, encouraging people to take action before it’s too late.

We are at a unique stage in our history. Never before have we had such an awareness of what we are doing to the planet, and never before have we had the power to do something about that. Surely we all have a responsibility to care for our Blue Planet. The future of humanity and indeed, all life on earth, now depends on us.

Image Credit: pixabay

Many viewers took to social media to voice their opinions on the show, and vowing to reduce their plastic waste. Hitwise, a company that measures online behaviour, published data which showed that internet searches for the term ‘plastic recycling’ rose by 55% after the last episode aired and The Marine Conservation Society saw 169% increase in traffic to their website. Similarly, WWF had a 51% increase and there was a 35% increase to the Plastic Oceans Foundation. 

Statistics from The Guardian in 2016, show that more than 9 in 10 people now often or always carry their own re-usable shopping bags, compared to 7 in 10 before the 5p plastic bag charge came into effect. The statistics also show that “the number of plastic bags taken from supermarkets and retailers in England has fallen by 85%.”

Some think that the UK should adopt a plastic bottle scheme that has already been implemented in European countries such as Germany. One euro is added onto the price of drinks that are sold in plastic bottles, which is refunded to you if you bring the bottle back to a shop (not necessarily the one you bought it from) to be recycled. This prevents bottles being sent to landfill or just thrown on the street or our oceans as litter. Some homeless people collect them to give back to shops in bulk in return for money, and the locals sometimes give the homeless empty bottles instead of their spare change!

Coffee shops such as Pret and Costa have started to introduce a small discount to customers who bring a re-usable cup to refill rather than using a disposable cup that is often non-recyclable, in an effort to encourage sustainability and no-doubt benefit the company economically as they don’t have to purchase as many cups as often. Personally, I’ve noticed an increase in the amount of people who are carrying flasks and other re-usable coffee mugs and water bottles on campus and in the wider community. The Union are also making an effort to provide eco-friendly options on campus and there are plenty of re-usable merchandise available to buy in the Union Shop. The World Health Organisation is also launching an investigation into the presence of micro plastics in bottled water, and it’s potential risks.

Thanks to programmes like Blue Planet and people like David Attenborough, we are coming to the very real realisation that plastic is severely harming us and our world, and for the first time in a long time we are starting to actually do something about it. Let’s hope we never lose that momentum.


Features Editor 2017/18, Sub-Editor 2018/2019, BA English Student.

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