Stop using plastics in 'functionless' ways, says Attenborough

Environmentalist Sir David Attenborough has called on people to cut down on plastic waste by stopping "functionless" uses of the material.

The TV presenter's Blue Planet series has been credited with driving international action on plastics, including UK Government proposals to ban plastic straws, cotton buds and drink stirrers.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme ahead of the reopening of Kew Gardens' Temperate House, Sir David warned the planet risked being "overwhelmed" by humanity using plastic with "total abandon".

Asked whether Government initiatives, such as the 5p tax on plastic bags, were an adequate response to the danger, Sir David said: "We can never go far enough, because we shall always be overwhelmed with plastic, but at the moment we are using plastic in a completely functionless way."

He added: "It baffles me that people send me letters and if they think they're important they put them in a plastic envelope. Why? I just can't understand. I suppose it makes them look precious, but it is quite functionless.

"We use plastic - or have done until now - with total abandon, without any care or concern about where it's going to go and what it might do.

"If we can pull ourselves together and recognise that actually it is a major danger, particularly in the sea, we are stepping in the right direction."

Sir David defended wildlife film-makers against charges that their programmes play down the impact of pollution and waste to show a pristine environment untouched by humans.

He said it was wrong to suggest that depicting animals exhibiting natural behaviour in their habitats amounted to a lie if those habitats were threatened and those species were in danger of extinction.

"That's not a lie, it's what that particular species of monkey is like," he said.

"There's a time and a place for all these things. I think it would be a great mistake if you decided that every time you put on a natural history programme, you had to end up saying `By the way, these species are endangered, and it's all your fault'."

Blue Planet II
Sir David Attenborough's Blue Planet II highlighted the damage done to the oceans by plastics (Lisa Labinjoh/Joe Platko/BBC)

He suggested future generations may regard the films he has made over the past half-century in the same way that footage of dinosaurs would be viewed today.

"I would like to think that there will not be any of it which you couldn't do again - and perhaps better," said Sir David.

"But it could be that quite a lot of those things will become extinct in 50 to 100 years' time, in which case that will be a legacy that future generations will treasure.

"Think of what it would be like if you could see pterodactyls coming across these roofs and a brontosaurus come thundering through these newly planted palm trees."

Sir David said he was "concerned" about a string of scandals relating to faked footage in wildlife documentaries.

But he said it was important to recognise that many methods used to depict the behaviour of rare creatures on film were "perfectly acceptable".

"Of course it concerns me," said Sir David. "If you say, 'I'm walking across this jungle and suddenly I saw this creature here and aren't we lucky to see it', and you then show a shot of an animal that's taken in a zoo, that's fakery.

"But if you say, 'I want to show you how a snow leopard treads on the snow so silently', and you went to an area where there was a reserve where there were snow leopards and fresh snow, that seems to me perfectly possible, perfectly acceptable."

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