‘Attenborough effect’ praised for reduced use of plastic

Almost all tents taken home after Glastonbury festival

Naturalist David Attenborough has been credited for driving more than half of UK consumers to reduce the amount of plastic they use.

The broadcaster’s Blue Planet II documentary, which has been shown in countries all over the world since it aired for the first time in 2017, highlighted the dangers of plastic pollution to marine life.

A report by GlobalWebIndex, which analyses consumer data, said the “Attenborough effect” had played a significant role in the raising of awareness and the changing of attitudes.

“When David Attenborough issued a call to action to combat plastic waste in the second series of Planet Earth II, searches for ‘plastic recycling’ saw a dramatic uplift of 55 per cent in the UK,” the report said.


“But the galvanizing impact of Attenborough’s words extended far beyond viewers of the show, and indeed the UK.

“Clutching at discarded plastic items retrieved from the ocean, his comments came after traumatic scenes showing the poisonous effects of plastic waste on marine wildlife.

“This was enough to set off what many have coined the Attenborough effect: a chain of events which have resulted in the so-called war on plastic waste and the wider social movement surrounding it.”

The “Attenborough effect” was seen in action after this year’s Glastonbury Festival where more than 99 per cent of tents at the Glastonbury Festival were taken home, co-organiser Emily Eavis said.

The event, which has the ethos Love The Farm, Leave No Trace, concluded on Monday following headline performances from Stormzy, The Killers and The Cure.

Climate change and the environment was the central theme of this year’s festival, which banned the sale of single-use plastic bottles.

Before it began, Ms Eavis urged festival-goers to bring a sturdy tent that they would bring home with them for a “lifetime of camping experiences”.

She tweeted: “Just heard that 99.3% of all tents were taken home. That is absolutely incredible...

“Huge thanks to the record numbers who loved the farm and left no trace!”

On Sunday, Sir David Attenborough made a surprise appearance on the festival’s Pyramid stage.

He described one sequence in Blue Planet II showing the effect of plastic on ocean creatures.

“It had an extraordinary effect and now this great festival has gone plastic-free,” Sir David said.

Furthermore, 53 per cent people said they had reduced the amount of plastic they use in the past 12 months, according to the report.

The proliferation of other high-profile environmental documentaries, such as Before the Flood, Cowspiracy, and An Inconvenient Truth were also mentioned as having “broadened public awareness in ways that the scientific community alone never could”.

“Celebrity activism around climate change has grown in tandem with this,” the report continued. “Before the Flood featured one of the most vocal celebrity climate activists, Leonardo Di Caprio, as a key contributor.

“Other celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gisele Bündchen and Sigourney Weaver have all been part of the Years of Living Dangerously documentary and media project tackling climate issues.”

The report highlighted the spread of viral media “showcasing the degradation of our environment”, which it described as “both explosive and effective” in furthering the movement.

“Notable examples include the award-winning photograph of a seahorse holding a cotton swab amidst a sea of plastic debris and, more recently, the news story of a whale that died after swallowing 88 pounds of plastic bags,” it said.

“Perhaps the best example, however, is the video of a marine biologist removing a straw from the nose of a sea turtle.

“After going viral, this video affected the public consciousness so heavily that it helped catalyze the recent global movement to ban plastic straws.”

Growing calls for action by the public in part prompted about 180 countries to agree last month to sharply reduce the amount of plastic that gets washed into the world's oceans, the United Nations said. –Additional reporting from PA

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter