Opinion: Turning thoughts into actions on problems of plastic

Jane Pottas, Noreen Wilson and Nicky Dobson.
Jane Pottas, Noreen Wilson and Nicky Dobson.

Around 100 people, including Whitby Town Mayor Noreen Wilson, came to watch the film A Plastic Ocean, which was screened at the Whitby Coliseum Centre on Wednesday February 14.

In addition to seeing the film, those who came had the chance to see a display of newspaper articles from the press, including the Whitby Gazette, about the impact of plastic pollution.

The audience at the screening A Plastic Ocean in Whitby,

The audience at the screening A Plastic Ocean in Whitby,

Also on display were replies to a letter sent to the supermarkets in the town from Sainsbury’s and Lidl outlining company policy regarding plastic packaging.

There were information sheets about how individuals can reduce their use of single-use plastics and suggestions of actions we can all take including signing petitions to companies and government.

Whitby Naturalists’ Club and Capturing Our Coast (CoCoast) Yorkshire sponsored the event and a raffle was held to defray the costs of hiring the theatre at the Coliseum and paying for the licence to show the film. Raffle prizes were kindly donated by Sainsbury’s, Botham’s, Whitby Deli, Natural Origins, Co-op, CoCoast, Sandra and Walter Turner, Wendy English.

David Attenborough described this film as the most important film of our time. It powerfully documents the problems associated with plastic pollution in the world’s oceans and shows in stark detail how these problems affect us all.

While acknowledging that plastics have improved our daily lives in countless ways the film highlights what happens to the plastics when we throw them away.

They do not biodegrade, they simply disintegrate into smaller and smaller pieces until eventually they become practically invisible microplastics. We saw how large pieces of plastic are mistaken for food by marine mammals and sea birds which suffer and die as a result of ingesting plastic bags, synthetic rope, and broken pieces of plastic.

Microplastics threaten the health of all animals. Chemicals and heavy metals in water adsorb onto the surface of plastics and if ingested the chemicals dissolve in the tissues of animals which have eaten them.

Smaller objects have a larger surface area to volume ratio than larger ones so the microplastics carry a larger proportion

of adsorbed chemicals. Microplastics are filtered out of water by filter feeders – mussels, oysters, fish – and once in their bodies the adhered chemicals dissolve in their tissues.

The animals which eat the filter feeders ingest all these chemicals and by a process called bioaccumulation the concentration of chemicals increases up the food chain so that top predators (human beings are amongst the top predators) ingest large amounts along with their food. A sobering thought.

Plastic waste is a global problem.

Once in the marine environment the plastics and their cargo of chemicals circulate across the globe, accumulating in five huge ocean gyres where they are nobody’s problem and everyone’s at the same time.

Plastic waste is shipped around the world from where it is made and used to other countries for disposal but we are producing so much plastic every day that it is impossible to cope with the amount. It’s easy and cheap to make and it will last forever.


Since it was released in 2017, there have been screenings of this film across the world hosted by government agencies, non-profits, schools, universities, individuals, multilateral institutions, corporations, aquariums and many more.

And now it’s been shown here in Whitby. Perhaps it should be made compulsory viewing in all schools.

This generation of school students are inheriting the mess we have created. Together we must rise to the challenge made by the film - to help create a wave of change. Join the WASPs Facebook group – Whitby Against Single-Use Plastics.

Join Whitby Naturalists’ Club. Sign up to learn more about the CoCoast project.

Tweet on #RethinkPlastic. Join a Whitby Beach Clean (March 13). Challenge the supermarkets to reduce their use of plastic packaging. Watch the film.

It’s available on NetFlix.

Don’t do nothing.

Do something. Please.