On Sunday BBC1 broadcast the final episode of Blue Planet 2. After a seven-week run exploring the amazing creatures of the deep oceans, the series finished on a downbeat note as David Attenborough meditated on the environmental impact of mankind.
Two months previously, P&G unveiled a new packaging formulation for Fairy dishwashing liquid. The new Fairy Ocean Plastic Bottle, produced with recycling experts TerraCycle, is made from 10% plastic collected from beaches and the oceans and 90% plastic diverted from landfill.
The connection between these two events is the growing problem of plastic waste pollution. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has warned that there could be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050.
But environmentalists face the challenge of motivating people to push for change. At government level, action on environmental issues is usually proportionate to the strength of public concern.
The public are aware of many issues, but not every issue stimulates action. Many issues are known about and tolerated. There needs to be a strong emotional charge before something gets done. When people are angry or upset, they act. Governments and businesses sit up and take notice.
This is where programmes like Blue Planet come in. Viewers welcomed the new series with excitement and delight, but their reactions to the strong environmental message of episodes four and seven were led by feelings of anger and sadness. Significantly, viewer trust in the forces responsible for ocean plastic collapsed. The fact that the BBC broadcast Blue Planet simultaneously to a global audience means that this wave of public concern is reaching far beyond the UK.
Since Blue Planet signed-off on Sunday, there has been a sharp increase in social media activity, with people calling for action against ocean plastic. Packaging manufacturers and the global consumer products giants they supply will be monitoring the change in public sentiment. If the groundswell in the call for action gathers momentum, people will scrunitise their own purchasing decisions. To keep faith with their customers, many more brands will be compelled to follow Fairy’s lead.