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BBC World Service - Discovery

Discovery

Explorations in the world of science.

Discovery

  • The China Syndrome
    Plastic waste and pollution have become a global problem but is there any sign of a global solution? And how did we allow this to happen in the first place? Materials scientist and broadcaster, Professor Mark Miodownik, explores how we fell in love with plastic, why we've ended up with oceans of waste blighting the environment and what science and society can do about it. Programme Three: Roland Pease hears from Kenya where one of the most stringent bans on plastic bags has been in force for nearly two years, from the US where the reuseable cup has taken off and from Sweden where reverse vending machines give you money back when you return your plastic bottles. And he looks at places where plastic is the best material for the job. Picture: Bike loaded with empty plastic bottles. Shanghai China, Credit: typhoonski/Getty Images

  • How Much Plastic Can We Recycle?
    Plastics are fantastically versatile materials that have changed our lives. It is what we do with them, when we no longer want them, that has resulted in the global plastic crisis. Mark Miodownik explores our love hate relationship with plastics. Programme Two: Things begin to go stale Plastic waste has been a global crisis waiting to happen. To date it's estimated that around 8.3 billion tonnes of waste plastic exists. That's 25 Empire State Buildings or 1 billion elephants. Incredibly around half of this has been generated in just the last 14 years, despite mass production having begun in the 1950s. Events such as China's recent refusal to take any more "foreign rubbish" from the west and Sir David Attenborough's graphic portrayal of the devastation that plastic waste is causing in our oceans, has prompted political and media discussion like never before. We are at a critical moment where, if we're to turn the tide on plastic pollution, it will require science and society to come together to create real change. But it won't be easy. One major area that needs an overhaul is recycling. In the UK only 14% of plastic collected is recycled. Europe tends to burn our waste for energy, and plastic has a calorific value similar to that of coal. But proponents of the circular economy say we should never consider plastic as waste at all and we should think of it as 'Buried Sunshine' - a resource that needs conserving - by reusing and recycling again and again. Picture: Production line for the processing of plastic waste in the factory, Credit: Getty Images

  • Why We Fell In Love with Plastic
    Plastic waste and pollution have become a global problem but is there any sign of a global solution? And how did we allow this to happen in the first place? Materials scientist and broadcaster, Professor Mark Miodownik, explores how we fell in love with plastic, why we've ended up with oceans of waste blighting the environment and what science and society can do about it. Programme One: First Flush of Love We may not be on speaking terms right now. But we do have a love affair with plastic, in fact it can be all consuming. Adaptable, lightweight, cheap and hygienic - fantastic plastics started to win our affection back in the late 19th century. Bakelite was an early plastic invented to replace expensive wood. Celluloid was one of the earliest plastics, failing to replace ivory in billiard balls, but revolutionising the world as movie film. Plastic really did change our world. Plastic radar insulation played a role in helping the Allied forces win the Second World War and after the conflict, factories start to churn out cheap, mass-produced goods in the new synthetic polymers. But some of the key virtues of plastic may now have paradoxically poisoned the relationship. Being virtually indestructible, has led to a build-up of toxic micro-plastic in the oceans and environment. We've grown to regard many plastics as cheap and disposable, we take it for granted, rely on it too much, value it too little and are too ready to cast it aside after one single use. Producer: Fiona Roberts Picture: The Bakelite Museum, Credit: Getty Images

  • Finding the Coelacanths
    The first Coelacanth was discovered by a woman in South Africa in 1938. The find, by the young museum curator, was the fish equivalent of discovering a T- Rex on the Serengeti, it took the Zoological world by storm. Presenter Adam Hart tells the story of this discovery, and the steps taken by Coelacanth biologists in the decades since to find more fish, in other populations, and record them for science. Adam hears personal accounts from a deep diver who swam with Coelacanths, Eve Marshall, conservationist Dr Mark Erdman, and geneticist Professor Axel Meyer. Picture: 3 Coelacanths at 116 metres depth in Sodwana Bay, South Africa, Credit: Eve Marshall Producer: Rory Galloway

  • The Big Bang and Jet Streams
    Evidence for the big bang was initially thought to be a mistake in the recording. Jet streams in the upper atmosphere were revealed by the dust emitted by Krakatoa and a collection of interested citizen scientists. In the second three episodes about the genius of accidents in science, presenter Adam Hart explores two stories of unexpected observations. Sometimes accidental discoveries are bigger than you might expect. Picture: Moonlit Coast, Credit: shaunl/Getty Images