Interview | Craig Leeson States

‘The only way to get rid of plastic is to ban it’

Craig Leeson is a documentary filmmaker, and the environment and global sustainability ambassador for BNP Paribas  

The scourge of plastic is everywhere and needs to be rooted out, says Craig Leeson, documentary filmmaker, environment and global sustainability ambassador for BNP Paribas. Mr. Leeson’s film, A Plastic Ocean, has won more than 15 film festival awards and has been screened in over 70 countries. The film premiered at the UN General Assembly and talks about ending humanity’s single-use plastic addiction within a generation. Mr. Leeson, a former journalist whose stories helped weed out polluting industries in his Australian city, spoke to The Hindu on the need to move towards a new economy with the help of corporations interested in sustainable development.

How did you get attracted to environmental issues?

I grew up on a beach island called Tasmania, a beautiful place. It gave me the opportunity to interact with incredible creatures and develop a deep connectivity with the ocean, although Burnie, the city I grew up in, had one of the most polluted beaches due to waste from heavy industries like a pulp paper mill, paint pigment plant. It was giving swimmers sores and skin problems, and the place had the highest instances of cancer in Australia. As a journalist, I began investigating the reasons and found the industries responsible for this. We published stories, it became the national headline and resulted in several polluting industries being withdrawn from the city.

Did people lose jobs?

Yes, it did happen initially. But as polluting industries slowly withdrew, different avenues of employment opened up like tourism and cheese manufacturing. It is the migration of the economy to the new, more sustainable one.

How did the idea to make a film on plastic in oceans occur to you?

A friend once told me about the problem of plastic in oceans and asked me to make observations during my travel. I used to travel for my work to beaches, across seas and water bodies. Plastic was so common that before that, I had not noticed it as a problem. But after talking to my friend I started observing and started seeing plastic lying around everywhere. It was so common and such a part of my life that it literally disappeared from my vision.

It’s a part of everyone’s life. We can hardly live without it.

Plastic is the most durable substance we have ever made. It doesn’t biodegrade ever. It has already entered our food chain, a part of our body, possibly with all its chemicals. Everything that is made up of plastic ends up being thrown in the ocean or piles up on land. The only way to get rid of it is to ban it.

Will a ban work, especially when it has financial repercussions?

Rwanda was one of the first countries to ban plastic bags with strict punishments for its use. Several states in the United States have banned it and many other countries in Europe and Asia may follow suit. Maharashtra too has banned single-use plastic. But only legislation is not enough, there has to be effective implementation. The issue of economic activity being hampered, jobs being lost after banning plastic, especially in a developing country like India, are bound to be raised. But with new challenges come opportunities towards a new economy. The new economy towards sustainable growth is possible giving ample of opportunities.

Is the migration to a new economy is easier said than done?

There are global problems staring at us. Be it climate change or switching from fossil fuels to renewables. Where do we look for opportunities? Opportunity comes with entrepreneurship, with finding new solutions, new businesses, developing new technology. Another area of opportunity is finding better technology to use renewable energy to tackle single-use plastic. There are problems with fossil fuels or single-use plastics. But the new generation, when confronted with problems, will try to find to solutions. I am positive about it. This will lead to new businesses, a new economy. Financial institutions like BNP Paribas, governments, technology companies will come forward and legislations will be made and implemented when opportunities for the new economy are explored.

How important is the role of environmental activists, social groups and individuals, especially the younger generation, towards achieving this?

Immense. Every protest and movement starts with an individual’s idea. I realised it after I started showing my documentary on plastic in schools. The feedback was extremely positive. I met an oil company CEO at a conference where he told me about his son watching my documentary and asking him why he was working in the oil industry. An individual like Greta (Thunberg) is the best example of how the young generation is making the right kind of noise. After all, it is this generation which will inherit the earth and face the consequences of our actions today. This generation is smart, educated and informed. The future lies with them.

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Printable version | May 12, 2021 2:04:12 AM |

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