David Attenborough: Our Zero Waste Hero

Photo by Gavin Thurston

Last week, natural treasure Sir David Attenborough joined Instagram, and broke a world record for the fastest account to reach 1 million followers (previously held by Jennifer Anniston). His debut post was an IGTV addressing the camera with a simple statement that after over sixty years on television, he will be using this new format of communication to drive home the urgency of facing the climate and biodiversity crisis head on. 

Celebrating the beauty, and ultimately the fragility of the natural world for decades, Attenborough is now perhaps most memorable for his iconic Blue Planet series which mobilised countless people to take action on the plastic that threatens our shared oceans. In Blue Planet II, Attenborough highlighted just how much plastic we are all drowning in, including billions of plastic bottles, disposable cups and plastic bags led by our supersonic throwaway culture. 

Of course, solving this vast problem will take more than just individual action - we need corporations and governments to enforce drastic reductions in resource use, waste and emissions. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t make a difference, and that is the mantra David Attenborough has championed throughout his work. Each of us has a part to play, and there is no more time to waste.

“One of my most treasured possessions as a youngster was my copy of Life On Earth. This book inspired me, along with my Dad, to get involved with the WWF and led me to study a degree in Biological Sciences. David Attenborough is also the reason I wanted to launch GlobalWakecup, after being so moved to make a difference to the ocean plastic crisis.”

- Nick McEwen, co-founder of Global WakeCup

Attenborough’s philosophy, driven by an enduring passion for protecting this majestic planet, is to minimise what we waste. Talking to a five-year-old fan at a documentary screening, he focused on one key action that all of us can take: “Look after the natural world, and the animals in it, and the plants in it too. This is their planet as well as ours. Don’t waste it.

Still from 'Zoo Quest', 1950s

Last month, David Attenborough presented a film called Extinction: The Facts. It was aired on the BBC during prime time, reaching millions of people with a vital message: Species extinction is caused by human activity, and we must take action now before it’s too late. Here, they outlined six key ways in which humans are driving this catastrophe (watch this clip for a great overview too):

  • Illegal wildlife trade | This includes the poaching of rhinos and elephants to harvest and trade their ivory, the slaughter of dolphins for meat and human entertainment, and the capture of big cats to breed in captivity in uncertified zoos. Strict animal rights legislation must be enforced worldwide to save thousands of animal species from being unjustly killed.

  • Overfishing | We have removed over 39% of fish from the sea over the past 40 years, solely to feed the human population. By 2050, the amount of fish could be outnumbered by the number of pieces of plastic in the ocean, including a staggering amount of discarded fishing nets.

  • Population and overconsumption | The world population has grown by nearly 800% in the last two centuries. While developing countries in the Global South are often targeted as areas of problematic population growth, the biggest environmental impact comes from developed economies and oil-producing nations where levels of overproduction and overconsumption are skyrocketing. In fact, the largest carbon footprint per capita is emitted from countries like the United States, Australia and Canada. We need to dramatically reduce how much we consume, rather than shifting the blame elsewhere.

  • Still from 'Life on Earth', 1978

  • Pollution | The UK used to be a resource-intensive industrial economy, built upon mining and manufacturing. Now, we have outsourced our footprint and soaring demand for goods elsewhere, importing from around the world where legislation on air and water pollution may be weaker. The world’s rivers, for example, are filled with toxic chemicals produced by the global fashion industry, which threatens the lives and livelihoods of both marine life and humans.

  • Destruction of natural habitats | We have converted around 75% of land not covered in ice into residential, industrial, commercial and agricultural land - there is not much wild left in the wild thanks to mass deforestation. To create food for humans and livestock, we have destroyed alarming proportions of the world’s forests, which has a colossal impact on biodiversity as well as c02 levels.

  • Climate change | David Attenborough has said time and time again: “There is no question that climate change is happening; the only arguable point is what part humans are playing in it.” Climate change, or more accurately the climate crisis is not occuring at some vague point in the future for our great grandchildren to deal with. The effects of global heating are being felt all across the world now - just look at the fires in Australia, the US and the Amazon for a start.

  • Photo via BBC

    It may seem like our prospects are looking rather bleak, but according to Attenborough, there is plenty we can do about it, including:

    Eating less meat and dairy products

    This doesn’t necessarily mean going vegan, but reducing our consumption of meat and dairy products by switching to a few plant-based alternatives can really help cut down your carbon footprint, as well as investing in more sustainable and responsibly sourced brands. Reducing food waste in general is also important. You can do this at home by: meal planning, always shopping with a list (not when you’re hungry!), storing and freezing food carefully, reusing and re-growing veggie scraps, embracing ‘wonky’ produce, and starting your own compost.

    Educating the next generation 

    Many of us had an education woefully lacking in nature. Learning about the natural world, and of course the human impact upon it, must take place for all children in order to raise the next generation of eco warriors. Curriculums need to include the climate crisis, species extinction, and practical ways to mobilise children to want to make a difference. Us grownups are not exempt from this important education either - we must keep learning, and act now, rather than simply waiting for youth activists to gain power.

    Consuming more responsibly

    Ultimately, here in the West, we all need to consume less. From clothing to tech gadgets to travelling by car or plane, and of course, plastic packaging - it’s time to slow down and think mindfully about each buying decision. A great place to start is by investing in long-lasting reusable products rather than single-use - browse our selection of cups, bottles and bags here.

    Still from 'Zoo Quest', 1950s

    Despite everything he knows about the desperate state of the natural world, 94-year-old David Attenborough remains hopeful, insisting that if we rise up together and act now, we can start to turn back the clock and restore the planet to former glory. As he reminded us in Planet Earth II:

    “It is our responsibility to do everything within our power to create a planet that provides a home not just for us, but for all life on Earth."

    David Attenborough’s new documentary-meets-biopic, A Life On Our Planet, comes out on Netflix Monday 4th October 2020. See the trailer here - we can’t wait to watch!

    Back to blog