by Caitlin Zera January 26, 2016
In a report released last week, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the World Economic Forum concluded that the world’s oceans may contain more plastic debris than fish by the year 2050. If the amount of plastic that is in ocean right now overwhelms you, you are not alone and the documentary Plastic Paradise will bring you some much needed solidarity.
Plastic Paradise: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Directed by Angela Sun
Runtime: 57 minutes, 2013
Plastic Paradise is a personal journey in which filmmaker Angela Sun follows plastic waste from its disposal sites on land all the way to Midway Atoll, a remote island community in the Pacific Ocean, in search of the final resting place for the world’s plastic. This resting place is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – the meeting place of major currents in the Pacific Ocean where plastic items (anything from toys, grocery bags, single serve water bottles, fishing nets, etc.) that enter the water from the three surrounding continents amass.
Sun travels to Midway Atoll to meet with scientists and get some answers about the effects of this mass amount of plastic in our oceans. Due to its geographic location in the Pacific Ocean, Midway Atoll is the best place to get an idea of the amount of plastic in our ocean. Situated along major currents, Midway Atoll is on the front lines of the Pacific Garbage Patch amassment. Plastic items and pieces wash up on its shores, littering its beaches with plastic debris of all shapes and sizes.
Midway Atoll is the resting place for hundreds upon hundreds of birds who, after ingesting exorbitant amounts of plastic, collapse and die in the sand. They are dissected by scientists for information on what types of plastics they’ve consumed and then mounded into large piles, almost like mass graves, and eventually carted away from the shore. During these scenes you can’t help but feel that you’ve seen not one but hundreds of canaries in the coalmine.
Because Midway Atoll is the gateway to the Pacific Garbage Patch, it’s also just the beginning of the story Sun pursues in Plastic Paradise: an all encompassing look at our society’s relationship with plastic.
Sun develops the story of the world’s plastic in a well-rounded way throughout the film. While we all know we can stop using so much unnecessary plastic, she shows that consumption of plastic is not an isolated environmental issue and nor is disposal, i.e. recycling or landfilling. These are just parts of a much larger toxic cycle. Sun delves into the production of plastic, the wastefulness of the industry and the pollutants and resources it takes to create myriad plastic items. She takes the industry to task and also looks at the various environmental justice issues that surround plastic production.
Plastic Paradise discusses both the human health impacts and the ecological impacts of plastic debris. Sun clearly connects the two, demonstrating how dependent humans are on the ocean. She investigates the health issues of constant exposure to chemicals in food-grade plastic, the dangers of eating ocean fish that have consumed plastic particles, and the loss of species due to the habitat destruction and wildlife fatalities caused by mass amounts of plastic.
If you’re familiar with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Plastic Paradise will still offer you some new revelations. Among these may be Sun’s participation in a BPA study in which researchers detect an alarming amount of BPA absorbed through her skin while she holds a grocery store receipt for 3 minutes. Receipts are coated with a thin plastic film that contains BPA.
In a more light-hearted revelation, Sun encounters an activist who has crafted an entire outfit out of plastic shopping bags. When he dons this entire outfit, he’s affectionately referred to as a “Plastic Bag Monster,” and attends events, rallies, and protests to raise awareness about the unnecessary nature of plastic shopping bags.
Above all, Plastic Paradise is a personal film, and Sun speaks to audiences from her perspective as a concerned citizen. Sun is a refreshing filmmaker – she’s willing to be the central narrator, admit her own ignorance, learn with the audience, and confront corporate public relations staff. She’s also a fairly nontraditional voice. In an entertainment industry dominated by white male voices, Sun is a commanding presence. She’s young, determined, and embraces the power of digital filmmaking. These attributes make the film a relatable, personal journey that dives right into a citizen investigation of the plastic industry and shows us that knowledge-sharing is a very powerful tool in our grassroots toolkit.