Plastic Paradise: Where Our Garbage Spends Its Retirement

The movie, Plastic Paradise: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, raised eyebrows and dropped mouths this year. The film won multiple awards and continues to gain popularity across the United States. I saw it at a film festival today and am shocked and pleased with its content.

The movie shows us how garbage floating around the Pacific Ocean is intercepted by small islands, such as Midway. The footage is disturbing. In one scene, a wildlife protection agent guts an albatross and finds a permanent marker cap, mangled fishing line, and other bits of plastic inside the bird. In another scene, skin divers find a large plastic-based fishing net (thrown away by a massive commercial fishing ship) caught on live coral. As mentioned in the scene, a discarded fishing net is like a tumbleweed in the ocean – it gets caught on coral, eventually breaks the coral off the reef (the coral dies), and is carried by the current until it gets caught on another coral.

The major problem with plastic is that it does not degrade or disintegrate. Therefore, when we throw plastic away, it stays in tact and takes up a lot of space in landfills. When plastic floats around the ocean, animals like fish, turtles, and birds eat it or get tangled in it and die.

Despite the unfortunate message, the movie is light-hearted. Angela Sun, the creator and director, is up-beat and has a positive attitude. She teaches us how two very simple items can help reduce the amount of plastic we throw away: reusable grocery bags and reusable water bottles.

Plastic bags and bottles constitute a majority of the plastic waste in our society. The reusable bag trend took off mildly for awhile, but it was still just a trend. Just like any “green initiative”, it needs more follow-up and follow-through in order to take hold as a societal norm. Otherwise, it will only be a trend, a fad.

Although the film has a good message, there is a one major element regarding the disposal of plastics and waste in the ocean that is not addressed: money. I am not a money-focused individual, but I do understand and accept that money is an integral part of society. Plus, any “green initiative” must result in a viable financial gain or people and business will not adopt it.

In the film, I would like to see some numbers regarding the cost of producing, recycling, and wasting plastic bags and bottles. I would also like to see numbers that project the cost-benefit for both consumers and businesses to not use and distribute plastic bags and bottles. Finally, I would like to see numbers that project the financial loss for the plastics industry and how such a loss for the nation’s fourth largest industry (which also relies heavily on the oil and gas industry, the world’s top industry) would affect our nation’s economy.

This might seem like a huge request; but if I, an established tree-hugger, am requesting such information, I imagine the military, plastics industry, oil and gas industry, and all other businesses that rely on plastics would demand much more.

All in all, the film is well assembled, fun to watch, and leaves a imprint. I highly recommend it to everyone. Plastics are a huge part of our daily life; therefore, it is partially our responsibility as consumers to make choices that support environmentally- and economically-friendly efforts. Check out the trailer and try to see when it is shown in your city.

Plastic Paradise: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch Trailer from Angela Sun on Vimeo.

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