Brighter Thinking

Our view on A Plastic Ocean documentary, and how the travel and tourism industry can be a force for change

Plastic in our oceans is reaching critical levels, and is seriously harming the marine and bird life that calls the ocean home. This article explores the facts behind microplastics and what you can do to minimise your plastic footprint.


Most of us reading this piece will no doubt work in the travel and tourism sector and therefore will have some awareness of the scale of plastic the industry attracts and consumes. In the last 10 years, we have made more plastic than ever before. In this year alone, every man, woman and child will consume on average 300 pounds or 136 kilos of single-use plastic. By 2025, 10 times more plastic each year is estimated to be dumped in our oceans. Furthermore by 2050 the population is expected to grow to a whopping 10 billion people and our plastic consumption is expected to triple. The truth is, only a fraction will be recycled.


These are just some of the facts we learned watching the Plastic Oceans documentary this week, and there are more here:


  • Eight million tons of plastic are dumped into the world’s oceans every year
  • In the western Mediterranean recent findings show 1-2 ratio of plastic to plankton (microscopic creatures eaten by a variety of marine life including whales).
  • Scientists estimate that there are more than 5 trillion particles (pieces of plastic) in our oceans.
  • As plastic bottles and debris float on top of the ocean they are broken up by sunlight, waves and salt to create what is known as microplastics.  
  • Toxins such as pesticides and heavy metals entering the ocean hitchhike onto microplastics, causing devastating effects on marine life when they are ingested.
  • A Bryde’s whale was reported to have 6sqm of plastic inside it when it washed up on the shoreline off Cairns in Australia. The post-mortem found that the whale’s stomach was tightly packed with mostly plastic checkout bags.
  • Birds are affected too: shearwater birds and albatross are often found dead with their stomachs full of microplastics. One shearwater bird was found with up to 270 pieces of micro plastics inside its body, that’s the equivalent of 6-8 kilos of plastic inside a human being.
  • The plastics and toxins found in marine life can (and do) enter the food chain, and end up on our plates.


Due to the severity and scale of the issue we, as the UK travel industry, may feel overwhelmed and powerless to help create change and stop the spread of plastic threatening our ecosystems and livelihoods. However, the truth is that the nature and causes of the issue suggest there is a solution. It’s a fact that there’s a link between tourism and the marine environment and that the tourism industry is very well positioned to create change and has a responsibility to step up. We have the opportunity and the tenacity to lead the way and inspire action, whether it’s working more closely with organisations that aim to raise consumer awareness such as Plastic Oceans, Marine Conservation Society, Incredible Oceans or the Plastic Pollution Coalition, proposing ideas to our tourist board and travel related clients to support this movement, working with local communities to help solve the issues on the ground or lobbying with the big players to make plastic reduction a priority in their CSR programmes. We can and should make a difference.


If you do one thing this weekend watch A Plastic Ocean on Netflix and decide how you can help build a better world through tourism. 


Are we just passengers on this earth or can we save the world from a sea of plastic and a catastrophe beyond any imagination?


Useful links

Join the plastic challenge:

Plastic Oceans:

A Plastic Ocean Documentary:

Marine Conservation Society

Plastic Pollution Coalition:

NO Straw please:

Incredible Oceans:

Bryde Whale utube link:


Writer: Trudi Pearce, Director of Responsible Tourism


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