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A shocking 76% of fish were found to have eaten microplastics.

Contrary to what Aqua may have sung back in 1997, life in plastic really isn’t too fantastic. It’s crazy to think that 400 million tonnes of it are produced each year worldwide: and 40% of that figure is single-use, taking centuries to break down.

We’ve come a long way in recent years. From Burberry’s bio-based acetate to biodegradable glitter, the fashion world (one of the most significant polluters) has seen a sea-change when it comes to the use of plastics. The food industry, similarly, has seen a move towards plastic-free enterprises, from indie supermarkets to trials in market leaders like Waitrose.

Sadly, though, our oceans haven’t caught up. The tides haven’t turned at all when it comes to our seas, as new documentary ‘Plastic Niles’ unveils. Recording the first study into pollutants in the world’s largest river, its stats aren’t surprising, but are still shocking.

A whopping 76% of fish throughout the river were found to have ingested microplastics, while a multi-million dollar smuggling operation involving illicit plastic bags is uncovered during the documentary.

It’s certainly not an easy watch. One clip sees an autopsy on a baby calf revealing multiple plastic bags that it has eaten, which is as harrowing as it sounds. But no report on the environment should be effortless viewing – the truth is a dirty one, after all.

For this particular doc, the implications are huge. Millions of people (and animals) rely on the Nile for survival, with every speck of plastic discarded literally adding to the problem. Snaking through eleven countries in Africa, it’s thought that around 300 million people get their water from its supply.

As documentary host and Special Correspondent for Sky News Alex Crawford notes: ‘So far there’s no antidote to the plastic which is choking the planet’s rivers and seas. It is another global challenge, and one we cannot increasingly cannot ignore.’ 

While seeing a documentary may not solve things, it reminds us that such a problem must change oversight of the issue. Waves of change are needed when it comes to our ponds, rivers and oceans; and we’d better start riding it pronto.

The Plastic Nile premiers on Sky Documentaries and NOW TV on June 1.

Words by Kyle MacNeill

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