The BBC single-use plastics ban signals a positive environmental future 

| 26th February 2018
Plastics on a beach

Plastics are washed up onto the 'garbage beach' in Malaysia. 

David Attenborough's Blue Planet II captured the awe and wonder of the natural world, and in doing so transfixed a nation. But it also brought new awareness of the appalling impacts of single-use plastics on marine life. Now the BBC has promised to ban such plastics before 2020. EMILY FOLK welcomes the move

The BBC's plan to stop using single-use plastics dwarfs the goal set by the prime minister, Theresa May, to cut all avoidable plastic use from the country in 25 years.

The BBC is one of the most influential international news networks in existence. In 2015, it employed almost 19,000 people - and those numbers were expected to rise in the following years. The BBC is known for accuracy and unbiased reporting from all around the globe, catching some of the hottest stories in the world.

Recently, it announced a plan to eliminate all single-use plastics within the company. Since it employs so many people in such diverse areas, this is a big goal. It's end date is 2020, at which point it wants its whole company to be free of single-use plastics.

'Auntie' will have two years to implement their three-step plan, which means phasing out plastic cups and cutlery by the end of 2018, eliminating plastic containers at its canteens by 2019 and eliminating all disposable plastics by 2020.


It's an ambitious goal. The BBC was inspired to make the move when filming Blue Planet II, which first aired in October 2017. The original series, The Blue Planet, aired in 2001 and was a precursor to their groundbreaking environmental documentaries, including Planet Earth, Planet Earth II and Blue Planet II.

This most recent documentary helped people working on the film to fully grasp how severe a problem plastic pollution in the oceans is. The sheer volume of tossed plastic was “shocking” even after working on a similar project less than 20 years ago. It has announced this shortly after the Queen announced her intention of reducing the use of disposable plastics on royal estates

The voice of all of these documentaries, David Attenborough, is now thought to be closer to the Queen. His collaboration with her on a conservation project may have sparked her interest in the topic.

On the royal estates, the staff areas will no longer be permitted to use any single-use plastic items, and they will be gradually phased out in public dining areas. Whether these are the initial steps to a complete ban is unknown, but it's clear that the impact of plastic has inspired some of the most influential people in the world.  

There’s a saying that leaders lead and bosses boss, meaning that leaders get others to do the work by following their example, and bosses just tell other what to do. The BBC and the Queen have both taken it upon themselves to act like leaders, not bosses, and start by changing themselves with the hope that others will follow suit. 

Speaks volumes

The BBC had already started to reduce their plastic use when they made their announcement. The immediacy of its actions is a direct result of the plastic waste in the environment. It was shocking enough to encourage the company to take immediate action. 

Every year, we throw away almost 400 tons of plastic, and a massive amount of that is from single-use items. These are, perhaps, the most frequently used "useless" items our society possesses.

They're plastic straws, plastic cutlery, plates, cups and anything sold as a single-serving. Some of the more popular things are the single-serving sauce packets sold at fast-food restaurants. They're convenient, and while we only use them for a few minutes, their impact lasts for half a millennia

Other items need to be disposable. Hypodermic needles, for example, should never be used more than once for safety reasons. But most of the plastic we use doesn't need to be single-use. The main reason we use them in the first place is just that they’re available and we’re used to it. 

Seeing this kind of move from some of the most well-known people and companies in the world speaks volumes. People leading by example is something we sorely lack, especially when it comes to the topic of conservation.

Public announcements

Companies, including massive global ones like WalMart and Apple, have made serious strides towards sustainability as well. But there's something different from seeing consumer companies making the change to boost sales, and the BBC doing so because they felt the need for it.

It speaks, even more, to see the most privileged family in the world making these kinds of changes. The Queen is not one to follow trends, and the BBC isn’t trying to boost sales by “going green.” These moves feel more genuine, and therefore help us to understand how imperative it is that we follow their lead. 

That’s not to say that consumer companies haven’t made any moves. In fact, a string of businesses from all around the UK has pledged to start eliminating single-use plastics.

McDonald's plans to begin reducing their plastic use all over the world, although they do not currently intend to stop using it entirely.  Some states in the USA have decided to ban the thin, flimsy, single-use plastic grocery bags that are so common in American stores.

A big part of the reason that these public announcements are so important is that it keeps the issue in people's minds and keeps the pressure on companies to reduce their plastic use. 

Dwarfs the goal

Along those same lines, the BBC’s documentaries, like Blue Planet II, clearly demonstrate the severity of plastic pollution. This can touch people all over the world in a way that most companies would never have the ability to achieve.

It’s one of the unique things about the BBC. They don’t only do news, so this isn’t just a news station that’s making changes. It’s a documentary powerhouse, and that gives it a reach that other companies just can’t match.

By following through with changes to their own company as a result of their documentary, the BBC can help drive home the visceral reaction many people had to seeing such an increase in plastic pollution.

They haven’t just taken steps though, they’ve also set an aggressive timeline for themselves and a huge goal, and then they started on it immediately. 

The BBC's plan to stop using single-use plastics dwarfs the goal set by the prime minister, Theresa May, to cut all avoidable plastic use from the country in 25 years.

Granted, Britain is much larger than the BBC, but by going first, they will hopefully help iron out some of the issues the country may face. If this is something they can accomplish, they can become even more of a leader in global conservation.

This Author

Emily Folk is a conservation and sustainability writer.