As English counties go, Cumbria has a fairy good record for recycling.

Kerbside collections are being extended to new estates and now seven out of every 10 households in the county gets one.

There are also 14 centres where people can take their own waste. Of the materials taken to these houshold waste and recycling centres, around 60 per cent is recovered for recycling.

But what happens to it all afterwards?

There are plenty of firms in Britain turning old paper, cardboard, cards and glass into new products.

It's the plastic that is the major environmental headache.

With far fewer firms willing or able to recycle plastic, there are reports that much of Britain's is being shipped overseas, where it is burned or dumped in landfill.

It was out of sight and out of mind - until now.

The final episode of David Attenborough's documentary series Blue Planet II was the most watched television programme of 2017. And it horrified most of those who saw it.

Around the world, around eight million tonnes of plastic are leaking into our oceans and billions of people are drinking water contaminated by plastic, as was graphically illustrated.

Among other images, it included footage of an albatross unwittingly feeding its chicks plastic picked up from the ocean. The chicks were certain to die.

Sir David believes rising global temperatures and plastic are the two biggest threats to our oceans and has said: “What we’re going to do about 1.5 degrees rise in the temperature of the ocean, I don’t know.

"But we could actually do something about plastic right now.”

Reducing or reusing is seen as a large part of the answer, and better than recycling. And across Cumbria people are already doing so.

Web designer Heidi Frith set up a facebook page called "Plastic Free Cumbria" where users can post details of events such as litter picks, beach cleans or meetings, or add tips for ways of cutting back on plastic use.

The response took her by surprise. "It just went mad," she says.

One suggestion was to stop buying milk from shops in plastic cartons and arrange for doorstep deliveries in glass bottles, and Heidi reports: "It's been great for milkmen.

"One said he's had nine new customers in a week. That's more than he'd had the previous year."

Buying bars of soap rather than plastic containers of liquid soap works out cheaper as well as more environmentally friendly. And Heidi has discovered: "You can now get shampoo bars and conditioner bars.

"And you can get moisturiser in tins. Quite a lot of little companies make them.

"I have hardly any plastic in my bathroom any more. My recycling bag used to be full every week. Now its one quarter full every month."

Environmentalists talk of a hierarchy in tackling waste: reduce, reuse and recycle. Nigel Jenkins of Penrith Action for Community Transition places another measure at the top of the list: refuse.

So at the Penrith on a Plate event last Saturday, he and other PACT members were urging visitors to make a single pledge to reduce their plastic consumption - even something as simple as turning down the offer of a plastic straw.

"Recycling is better than nothing but it's not the whole solution by any means," he stresses.

"It's much better not to use it in the first place."

Pledges included refusing plastic cutlery, lids, trays, straws and stirrers, or bringing your own tubs to a deli counter. "There's a whole range of options."

However pledging to reduce your use of plastic won't necessarily ensure you do so. Government measures such as the plastic bag charge may also be needed

"It's a combination of grassroots activism along with some leadership," Nigel points out.

"With plastic bags, many people weren't that bothered. Then legislation came in and that forced the issue."

Carlisle city councillor Paul Nedved sees the plastic bag charge as a first step in cutting plastic.

The second, he says, is the Government plan for a sharp reduction in single-use plastic items such as straws, cotton buds and wet wipes by the end of next year.

And he has a firm idea for what the third phase should be: a deposit scheme for plastic bottles.

Years ago such schemes operated for glass bottles. Customers returned empty ones to shops and received money back, and Paul says: "It worked well in the past and it could work again now."

It already happens in Germany and in some Scandinavian countries, and is being trialled in Scotland. Empty bottles are inserted into a machine that then dispenses money or a voucher.

"There should be a mechanism whereby people could return bottles, whether plastic or glass." he argues. "Once it was set up it could take off."

One of the virtues of the scheme, he adds, is that there's a reward involved. Even those who don't care about the environment may be encouraged by the prospect of money or vouchers.

"As long as there's an incentive people will use it," he predicts. "The 95 per cent reduction in plastic bags proved the point."

There are those who have been battling to reduce plastic long before David Attenborough brought its dangers into our front rooms.

Nature's Health Store has been in King Street in Penrith for 28 years now and manager Jean Allison has run a plastic bottle refill scheme for around half that time.

Customers with empty bottles can have them refilled with all kinds of liquids. "We have a range of shampoos and conditioners, laundry liquid, fabric conditioner, hand soap, washing-up liquid and floor cleaner," Jean says.

And it's growing in popularity. "With David Attenborough's programme people are thinking more about what's going on in the oceans and the damage we are doing.

"Our customers are usually quite aware of environmental issues. But it's reaching more people."

She adds: "If you look around your house there's an enormous amount of plastic you don't need. Why create more plastic when we can reuse what we've got quite readily?"

The disability charity Chrysalis Cumbria has a shop in Wigton which runs a similar scheme.

It stocks a number of cleaning products from environmentally minded company Ecover, and customers who come in with an empty Ecover container can have it refilled.

Like Jean, business manager Pam Oddy is noticing an increase. "We've always had a base of people who come in regularly, but I would say it's probably become more popular of late," she says.

"We've been doing it for a long time but we are now looking to extend the range.

"It's already an environmentally friendly product - and we are delivering it to customers in an environmentally friendly way."

There's an unmistakable optimism among those campaigning for plastic reduction. But there's also a great sense of urgency about its importance.

Despite their efforts, 700,000 plastic bottles still end up as litter every day in Britain.

And as Paul puts it: "We have absolutely no choice about tackling this. It's a frightening situation."