Drowning in plastic pollution? Call SeaBin and Mr Trash Wheel: CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV
Fear not, world. Our planet is disappearing under mountains of plastic that choke the coral reefs and poison billions of fish — but two bold superheroes are coming to save us.
Hurrah for SeaBin and Mr Trash Wheel! Liz Bonnin investigated prototypes of these saviours on Drowning In Plastic (BBC1), a bleakly horrifying survey of the tide of plastic pollution worldwide.
SeaBin, invented by a couple of Aussie surfers, is a large flowerpot that floats in the ocean, collecting debris. It might do for keeping a garden pond free of weed, but it seems inadequate for the Pacific.
Liz Bonnin investigates on Drowning In Plastic (BBC1), a bleakly horrifying survey of the tide of plastic pollution worldwide
Mr Trash Wheel (pictured), built and tested in Baltimore Harbour, sounds, and indeed looks, like a toy for an aquatic hamster, but it’s more gimmicky than that
Mr Trash Wheel, built and tested in Baltimore Harbour, sounds, and indeed looks, like a toy for an aquatic hamster, but it’s more gimmicky than that. This isn’t an eco-solution, it’s a political stunt. It even has its own Twitter account — @MrTrashWheel.
Every minute of this documentary was shocking and grim, but the most depressing aspect of all was how feeble the response of scientists and multinationals has been to the plastic crisis.
The future of the planet appears to be in the hands of well-meaning amateurs, such as the chap who makes soluble packaging out of seaweed. You don’t have to throw it away: it simply melts when wet. Unfortunately, his products can’t be exposed to rain.
If these solutions are the best Liz could uncover anywhere in the world, we’re really in trouble. She certainly seemed to be on the brink of despair. Standing beside a river clogged with plastic in Indonesia, Liz gasped: ‘My God, look at it, just look at it. This whole situation is breaking my heart.’
Every minute of this documentary was shocking and grim, but the most depressing aspect of all was how feeble the response of scientists and multinationals has been to the plastic crisis
No one fishes the river any more. The few surviving fish are too toxic. Upstream, slum dwellers were using the riverbank as landfill.
It created an unholy mess — but as George McGavin revealed in his BBC4 show A Rubbish History back in August, Londoners were doing the same just 50 years ago, with bargeloads of garbage left to rot on the Essex marshes.
George threaded his documentary with plenty of gallows humour. Liz was more merciless, urging us to watch as the bodies of seabirds were dissected, their innards crammed with hundreds of plastic scraps. She showed us dead seals, strangled by plastic garottes, and whales tangled in the ropes used by Cape Cod lobstermen. It was difficult to stick with such a dire litany for 90 minutes.
But there was little relief elsewhere: over on the free-to-view PBS channel, dedicated to U.S. factual programmes, a Christian conservative called Paul Douglas was explaining what climate change meant. ‘We’re seeing once-in-a-thousand-years floods with astonishing frequency,’ said Paul, a Minnesota TV weatherman. ‘How many times does that have to happen before it’s not a fluke but a trend?’
Standing beside a river clogged with plastic in Indonesia, Liz gasped: ‘My God, look at it, just look at it. This whole situation is breaking my heart’
American documentaries are distractingly dramatic, all whooshes and explosions, but after a few minutes of hyperventilation Decoding The Weather Machine (PBS America) settled down as a schoolbook explanation of how climate works.
A succession of scientists, extracting data from air samples, subterranean ice cores and even medieval clam shells, revealed how they knew carbon dioxide levels were higher today than at any time in 800,000 years of human evolution.
Biologist Stephen Pacala from Princeton university declared: ‘It’s a planetary crisis that we’ve collectively created together, but we’re clever enough to think our way out of this.’ That’s encouraging, but he probably hasn’t seen Mr Trash Wheel.