Chris Rose, environmental consultant and author of campaignstrategy.org, details how the plastics industry has side tracked this issue and why we now have problem on this scale.

The UN has acknowledged that we have a ‘plastics crisis’ and on December 6, 2017, adopted a non-binding resolution calling for an end to plastic entering the sea.

 

Many see plastic pollution as comparable in scale, threat and challenge to climate change.  Yet, Rose says, if it seems to have crept up on us ‘as if from nowhere’, that’s not for lack of earlier warning signs, dating back to the 1960s.

He explains that we’ve had knowledge about the key elements for a very long time but that knowledge has not been accessed or acted upon.   In large part he says, it’s because for decades, ‘plastic’ as pollution has been a ‘Track Two’ issue, confined to the slow-moving domain of analysis and mainly rather obscure science.  

 

Plastic enjoyed a ‘near miss’ in terms of becoming a ‘Track One’ mainstream issue back in 1970 when explorer Thor Heyerdahl got the world’s attention with his discover of ‘a sewer’ of pollution in the deep mid Atlantic but it then sank below the surface of ‘general public’ awareness until the chance discovery of ‘Plastic Soup’ in a Pacific Ocean gyre by sailor Charles Moore (see below).  This gave plastic pollution its second signal ‘moment’ on Track One at the turn of the century.

 

Rose explains that the high degree of separation of slow Track Two from the fast moving mainstream of Track One, helped keep it plastic off the radar of major policy and campaign groups from 1970 through to the 21st century.    Decades of research into plastic pollution down on Track Two effectively found no audience up on Track One. 

 

Moore’s discovery turned him into a scientist and campaigner.  The publicity he gained boosted existing research efforts and began to interest the media in plastic as a global pollutant, sucking up scientific findings from Track Two, making it ‘news’ on Track One and feeding dramatic documentaries like the BBC’s recent Blue Planet II, in which David Attenborough has admirably laid into plastic.