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'Plastic' is the OUP Kids word of the Year - I think we need a Blue Planet III

'Plastic' is 2018's kid's World of the Year. That's a good thing.

Early this month you may have read that Oxford University Press has announced that 'Plastic' is the Children's World of the Year for 2018. An honour that plastic has won for appearing more than any other word, within 134,790 short stories that children have written and submitted to the BBC Radio 2 500 Words competition.

Along with plastic, a handful of other equally sustainably minded words like "recycle, recycling, packaging, pollution, plastic bottle, plastic bag, and plastic waste" were all high scores and appeared at a far higher rate than in previous years. It all clearly shows that ecology is on the mind of our children and that a new generation is waking up to the challenges our planet is facing. More importantly though, what I think this reveals to us, is just how powerful the media really is. It really does have the ability to influence ours and especially our kid's values. And, as such, it possibly reveals to us the greatest weapon we have in getting 'Space Ship Earth' back on track. It's not recycling, carbon capture or green energy. The greatest weapon in fighting for sustainability is the Media.

Let me explain.

It cant be ignored that this is the OUP's Children's World of the Year which has followed David Attenborough's shocking depiction of Ocean plastic in his Blue Planet II. A series that has seemingly been the catalyst that has taken the nation's attention and forced the Government and many large companies to take action to reduce plastic waste.

The series showed albatross parents unknowingly feed their chicks plastic and mother dolphins exposing their new-born calves to pollutants through their contaminated milk. And, since its airing, it has become increasingly common for the press to cover issues of ecology and sustainability, with a particular focus placed on plastic pollution in our oceans. Whales washing up dead on the shore, filled with plastic. Microbeads contaminating every level of the food chain. An island in the Pacific Ocean which is three times the size of France and made of plastic. Some are even wondering if plastic is the new fur.

Maybe because of the brilliant production of Blue Planet II, maybe because of the fame of David Attenborough, or maybe just because its the zeitgeist; Blue Planet II has made us care about Ocean Plastic and this has trickled down to our kids.

“An empty plastic bottle they had carelessly discarded bobbed up and down at the water's edge. The pull of the tide gradually lured it further and further out to sea with each rise and swell of the waves. Yet another unwelcome plastic alien invader in the beautiful big blue sea that one less whale now calls home.” (The Big Blue, boy aged 10)

Unanimously the references these kids have made to plastic are emotional and negative. One short story was even titled "Evil Mr Plastic". While it has sometimes been difficult for other generations to comprehend the link between a single straw and the scale of the Earth's eco-system, these kids certainly have. And that must surely give us hope because caring is the first step to action.

If Blue Planet II has had this impact then surely it can be replicated. I have previously wondered what the impact would be if someone like Jamie Oliver produced a show in which everything he presented was Vegan, but without him ever actually mentioning this little plant-based detail. He would simply just present it as tasty 'food'. I imagine it would go a good way to normalising an alternative but very worthy ways of life.

Although this can sound sinister, basically like a form of propaganda, we must acknowledge that whatever media we make, it will inevitably push some agendas over others. And if we can see that some agendas are objectively in everyone interest, then surely these are the ones that should be promoted. Given how short our memories are I think this tactic needs to be put in place. We obviously need a Blue Planet III.


'Plastic' is the OUP Kids word of the Year was written by Torsten Sherwood, the product and Architectural designer behind noook. To see more of Torsten's work visit his website here, or follow him on Twiter and LinkedIn.


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