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News New online documentary takes on the plastic pandemic

A new documentary series, made by Staffordshire University students, takes a deep dive into the global plastic pollution crisis

Plastic Pandemic is a six-part online series
Image: Plastic Pandemic is a six-part online series

Plastic pollution is a threat to wildlife, ecosystems and economies, and a risk to human health. Litter, clothing and even car tyres shed microplastics which travel through waterways and through the air, making their way into the oceans, the soil and even into our food.

Dr Claire Gwinnet, Professor of Forensic and Environmental Science

The six-part online series Plastic Pandemic was created by Isaac Robinson and Jonathan Eley while completing a Master’s degree in Film Documentary and explores the increasing threat to the planet, people and animals.

The pair embarked on the project 18 months ago inspired by world-leading microplastics expert Dr Claire Gwinnet, Professor of Forensic and Environmental Science at Staffordshire University.

Dr Gwinnett specialises in the analysis of microfibres and helped to discover the first evidence of deep-sea animals ingesting microplastics in 2016. She now leads Forensic Fibres Microplastic Research Group which conducts research across the globe.

Isaac explained: “We knew we wanted to tell a story about something that people don’t necessarily know about and bring awareness to it.

“When we first met Claire, she asked me ‘would you eat a credit card?’ because in a matter of weeks you consume the equivalent amount of plastic in your food. That was the lightbulb moment – there was so much she told us that we weren’t aware of and that the general public probably aren’t aware of either.”

The documentary follows the researchers as they conduct experiments into plastic degradation at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology Research (NIOO) as well as investigations into agricultural microplastic pollution back in the UK.

Dr Gwinnet said: “Plastic pollution is a threat to wildlife, ecosystems and economies, and a risk to human health. Litter, clothing and even car tyres shed microplastics which travel through waterways and through the air, making their way into the oceans, the soil and even into our food.

“Raising awareness and educating the public is an important part of our work and so we were excited to be part of this documentary. This is a man-made crisis and we can all be part of solution - the more ways we can highlight this the better.”

Just months into making the documentary, the COVID-19 pandemic prevented filming on location so Isaac and Jonathan reached out to organisations and experts across the world to take part in the documentary virtually. A labour of love, the duo have continued working on the series since completing their studies last summer.

Isaac said: “What I’m used to is picking up a camera and getting out there, but we ended up using a lot of archive footage and did interviews over Microsoft Teams and Zoom. I learnt about a different style of filmmaking, and I think it became a better project for it.

“We also decided to capture the COVID aspect as the film itself was heavily impacted by the pandemic. We looked at good and bad effects of the global lockdown on the environment and also incorporated links to plastic pollution, such as the littering of masks.”

The series covers ocean conservation, sustainable design, upcycled products and plastic free alternatives with collaborators including Oceana, the Ellen McArthur Foundation and the Marine Conservation Society.

Isaac added: “It has been a huge learning curve and has changed my lifestyle - I’m a lot more plastic conscious now. I think a lot of people don’t feel that they can make a difference, but this series shows that we can all play our part.”

The first episode of Plastic Pandemic is available to watch online from Monday 22 March with new episodes released weekly. Follow @PlasticPandemic on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram to discover more.

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