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Film Review: Plastic Paradise, The Great Pacific Garbage Patch




If you’re looking for a real fright this Halloween season, there’s no need to find a haunted house or to visit the coffin in your neighbor’s yard.  Just take a look at the independent film Plastic Paradise, The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.  I saw the film recently with about 200 mostly high school and college students in Santa Monica High School’s Barnum Hall.

It’s hard to know where to start with the grossness of the plastic mass circulating in the world’s ocean gyres (the five swirling oblong currents in the furthest-most reaches of the planet’s oceans).  On the Midway Atoll, one of a string of volcanic islands halfway between the U.S. and Japan, tons of old flip-flops, bottles, pacifiers, toys, sippy cups, bottle tops, garbage bags, laundry baskets and every other item of non-destructible plastic origin you can think of, washes up on the formerly pristine, white beaches.  While this plastic detritus doesn’t decompose, it does, over years, break into small pieces that blend into the island sand and float in the water.  These particles absorb chemical waste — called persistent organic pollutants — in the water which then pass to the bodies of fish and marine mammals that ingest these chemical-laced pieces of plastic. Eventually those chemicals leech into the seafood that many of us eat.

This same island is the nesting place for most of the world’s albatrosses, one of the largest birds in existence.  Wildlife experts attribute the die-off of many of these birds to the massive amount of plastic they eat and pass on to their chicks.  The film provides graphic proof of this phenomenon.

Added to the plastic consumer goods swirling and settling in the way-beyond, are the estimated 640,000 tons of discarded plastic and nylon commercial fishing nets, many weighing more than a ton each, that snag on and break life-giving coral reefs, and entrap and kill larger marine animals. It’s enough to make you cry.

To balance out her film’s message, director Angela Sun attempted to capture the voice of the other side by attending a convention of the plastics industry (the third largest U.S. industry, after steel and automobiles).  No one would speak for attribution, but, before being hastily ushered out of the convention hotel, she was able to record the same type of messages of denial and disbelief that the tobacco industry used for years to avoid or delay tobacco regulation.

While important victories have been won recently in banning plastic bags in Los Angeles and California, one of the saddest reflections on this worldwide disaster came from the discussion after the film. Panelists reported that the most recent change identified in the massive, swirling garbage patch is the inclusion of plastics from China,  which is moving to the throw-away consumer model originally developed in the U.S.

What to do?  Well, first try to catch this film and let the problem sink into your consciousness.  And then see if you’re willing to take Angela Sun’s two-week pledge to SAY NO to single-use plastics.  This morning I stopped by Trader Joe’s to pick up something for lunch and all I could focus on were the stacks of fruit, vegetables and salads in their individual, indestructible, single-use plastic containers.  Are we ready to SAY NO?

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