Last week a documentary left many people I know in a state of shock. For some, it provoked tears. I refer to BBC’s ‘Drowning In Plastic’, presented by the naturalist, Liz Bonnin.

If you haven’t seen it yet, I strongly recommend a catch up. The programme explores the extent of plastic pollution in our oceans, and although anyone who follows the news will be aware of the problem, the extent of it comes as a shocker. Gigantic floating rafts of plastic three times the size of France. Coral reefs choking on the stuff. Marine animals poisoned, strangled, tangled, suffocated by plastic pieces of every shape, size and kind. Vast quantities of micro-plastic fragments embedding in the bodies of creatures at all levels of the food chain – oh, and by the way, that includes a two-legged mammal known as mankind. Every day approximately 8 million pieces of plastic pollution find their way into our oceans.

In 1950, the world's population of 2.5 billion produced 1.5 million tons of plastic; in 2016, a global population of more than 7 billion people produced over 320 million tons of plastic. And this is estimated to double by 2034.

Nor is the plastic problem confined to the ocean. On land it can release harmful chemicals into the surrounding soil, which can then find its way to water sources and thus the ecosystems all living organisms are designed for. Evidence is growing, in a field with inadequate levels of research, that plastic-polluted water can cause serious harm to the species that drink it. In addition, the breakdown of biodegradable plastics in landfill sites releases methane that is contributing significantly to global warming.

Although ‘Drowning In Plastic’ is compelling television, for this viewer, at least, it skirted some big questions. I found myself wondering who exactly is profiting from mankind’s epic own goal when it comes to how we use this amazing invention. Because let’s be clear, plastic in itself is not an evil, it’s how we, as a species, have allowed its potential to be misused.

Of course, you could say that of many of our inventions. Gunpowder, the combustion engine, even astonishing recent inventions like the internet. What seems to determine whether we lose our way is when we allow private profit to come before the interests of the majority.

Plastic, for example, is produced from petro-chemicals. The pollution created by this industry has not just sped up global warming but caused moral pollution. Think of the ‘oil wars’ in Iraq and Libya with their disastrous consequences.

The biggest problem, however, is closer to home. Our collective lifestyles in the West and developing worlds are increasingly dependent on plastic. Just wander round your house: how much of what we own and consume – and often cast aside after one use – is made of plastic? Excessive packaging is the half of it. Then again, consider how many millions of jobs are connected to our plastic addiction.

But all is not lost. ‘Drowning In Plastic’ showed inspiring examples where ordinary people are striving to develop systems and technologies to clean up the mess. One young man in Indonesia has invented durable packaging from entirely degradable seaweed. Another from Holland has designed a huge seaborne boom to trap the vast rafts of plastic floating in our oceans. It was also heartening to see how many of the scientists battling this scourge are women.

But again, with our nation’s vast resources, why is not Britain pioneering technological solutions to solve the crisis? Why are we not investing in green industries instead of the production, import and sale of unsustainable consumer goods? I fear our business leaders, politicians and media are too intertwined with the petro-chemical industry and ‘big money’ to want real change.

With great power comes great responsibility. No single species in the long history of the Earth has wrested for itself such a level of control as our own.

It is time we grew up and stopped acting like spoiled children on a wrecking spree of the planet we depend on. Time to stop getting tearful about plastic, and apply our full ingenuity, energy and reason to the problem. Time to change our ways.