Thursday, May 17, 2018

Review: A Plastic Ocean (2016)

The world faces peril and needs heroes. It does not need the Avengers or some other superhero. Plastic spreads like an insidious virus over the planet. In the ocean, the waves, sunlight, and wind break plastics into smaller and smaller pieces. Then, the tiny pieces act as magnets for harmful chemicals. Tiny fish eat the bits of plastic and it moves up the food chain. 
A Plastic Ocean (Dir. Craig Leeson, 2016) introduces Craig Leeson and Tanya Streeter. The two hosts of this documentary take viewers on a world tour of the impact of plastic. It’s everywhere. And, it feels overwhelming. They showed how plastic works its way into the digestive systems of fish, birds, mammals, and humans. The negative impact is incredible.
Why? This is a question a bit beyond the scope of the documentary. They focus on the science. They provide ample evidence to support their argument that plastics are ruining the planet. In one scene, Craig Leeson visits a variety of restaurants around Austin, TX. He asks for packaging that does not contain plastic. As expected, the wage-workers are mostly unable to comply. There are a few exceptions. The video is a bit unfair to the workers who are just trying to do their job. His point is well-made. The reason there is so much plastic in the ocean is the lack of available alternatives. Hence, when everything we buy is wrapped in plastic, the plastic has to go somewhere. 
In Germany, through a combination of government intervention and enterprise, turning waste to energy is economically viable. On U.S. aircraft carriers, a Canadian company called PyroGenesis uses a plasma torch to turn waste to its base elements. The byproduct is inert and the waste generates the energy needed to power the torch. 
Watching these examples gave me hope. I started imagining a ship sifting through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to collect resources for some future plastic-hungry technology. Jürgen Moltmann said, “Faith, wherever it develops into hope, causes not rest but unrest, not patience but impatience.” As I felt hopeful, my restlessness increased. Why can’t we get started?!? I do not know. 
Precious Plastic provides instructions for micro-plastic recycling plants. Think garage-sized. It is a network of plastic activists who fight to take plastic out of landfills (& oceans!!!) and recycle it for future use. A French company called Brikawooddesigned a Lego-style wood-brick house. Now, if we combine Precious Plastic and Brikawood, we get a plastic home. (Do you see where I am going?) Using 3D printing, making plastic bricks, waste plastic could solve homelessness. If this were successful, then there would be a new plastic-hungry business, and maybe there will be ships jockeying for space in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. 
The documentary ends with the challenge to “Think reusable, not disposable” and “Refuse single-use plastics.” The first is easier than the second. We went to the grocery store this afternoon. We took our own bags with us. However, most of the products include plastic. In this review, I have not addressed the chemicals (e.g. BPA) that seep into food or beverages. The two final challenges are aspirational. When we begin demanding that stores provide plastic-free packaging options, they will exist. Stores respond to market demands.  
A Plastic Ocean was an inspirational and encouraging documentary. I recommend everyone watch it and think about all the plastic in our lives. 

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