BBC presenter Liz Bonnin: We need a total UK ban on plastic bags and bottles

"I don't think it's going to be fixed just from consumers saying no to straws" the presenter says ahead of her new documentary Drowning in Plastic

Programme Name: Drowning in Plastic - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: surrounded by sea plastic. Liz Bonnin - (C) Raw TV Ltd - Photographer: Cody Burridge

Liz Bonnin has called for an outright ban on single-use plastic bags and water bottles in the UK following the distressing sights she witnessed while filming her new BBC series.

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The scientist and presenter, whose new programme Drowning in Plastic airs on BBC1 on Monday night, says that the scale of the problem has taught her that a total ban is the only answer to arrest what she calls a “devastating” problem.

“When it comes to all single use products, I just think if we can live without them, we should live without them,” she tells RadioTimes.com. “There’s no kind of middle ground any more. So can we live without plastic water bottles? Yes, we can. We have this sort of throw-away attitude to this product.”

The documentary claims that every minute around the world a million plastic bottles and two million plastic bags are bought.

Bonnin told RadioTimes.com that people’s efforts to limit their use of straws and takeaway cups and other plastic material was “hugely laudable” – but said that legislation was now the answer.

“I do feel that the onus has been placed a lot on the consumer, and that’s only part of the problem,” she said.

“So, for example, if you’re going to increase the plastic bag charge to 10p from 5p, again, the onus is on the consumer. Why is the industry still making plastic bags? Why is America investing $180 billion in new plastic factories?

“I think there is a little bit of a bias towards some of the solutions, and I think that more attention needs to be paid on an industry level, and on political will, and on a law-making level, to really tackle this problem. I don’t think it’s going to be fixed just from consumers saying no to straws.”

The presenter said that individual consumer choice alone was not going to solve the problem of plastic pollution, citing the example of Costa Rica – which has just announced its aim to ban all single use plastics by 2021.

“I have to ask, why the UK isn’t doing that?,” she added. “I mean, look, some of our plastic is absolutely a valuable part of our society. The question there is, do we make up that plastic with less toxic chemicals? That needs to be looked at. And also, can we make that plastic realistically recyclable?”

However, she added, “40 per cent of the plastic that’s prevalent in our society is single use stuff that we can absolutely live without. If Costa Rica can do it, why can’t we do that immediately? This whole ‘phasing out’ conversation makes me angry after everything I’ve seen. There is no more time to phase anything out.”

Filming the documentary has, she says, changed her life: “for the most part, not for the better”.

She admits the programme will be “a hard watch and a hard pill to swallow, but we are responsible for this. So what do you want? How are we going to sugar that pill? We’ve just got to get on with it and fix the mess we’ve created for ourselves.”

Drowning in Plastic features whales caught in fishing gear and a mile-long raft of plastic in an Indonesian river.

“The most striking thing was the sheer scale of the problem,” added Bonnin. “Even when I was researching this project, I didn’t really get a handle on just how pervasive plastic is, and just how badly it’s been affecting our wildlife without us realising.”

In the documentary Bonnin also witnesses shearwater chicks in the remote Tasman sea whose stomach were full of plastic products.

“Every single bird we lavaged had plastic in their stomachs. Some of them had up to 200 pieces, which was just absurd and overwhelming to me. They didn’t even get a chance at life. So on a very remote island in the middle of the Tasman Sea, plastic is not only reaching sea birds, but at a volume that I could never have really imagined.”

Programme Name: Drowning in Plastic - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: Shearwater Bird, Lord Howe Island - (C) Raw TV Ltd - Photographer: Screengrab
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Drowning in Plastic is on BBC1 on Monday 1st October at 8.30pm