Plastic Paradise – The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Running time: 57 minutes
Director: Angela Sun
Availability: plasticparadisemovie.com; Streaming on Hulu.
Price: $25 signed limited-edition DVD; free on Hulu
Fun Fact: The movie earned praise from former Vice President Al Gore.
In this short documentary, enthusiastic journalist Angela Sun explores the history of plastic and its impact on both our personal and planetary health.
The film begins with a short background on the material itself. A synthetic compound, plastic does not biodegrade like other commonly used raw materials. Instead, it photodegrades – breaking down into smaller fragments of plastic over time, which is more easily ingested by marine wildlife.
This means that all the plastic produced in the world is indestructible – once manufactured, it’s not going anywhere. With an estimated 300 million tons of plastic produced globally, and that number expected to quadruple by 2050, it’s easy to see the problem we’re currently facing.
Sun documents her journey to Midway Island, the location closest to The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The Patch is a collection of marine debris about twice the size of Texas, located in the Pacific Ocean. A system of ocean currents collects garbage from the eastern coast of Asia and the western coast of North America, centralizing it in one horrific area of waste. The island doesn’t elicit an immediate reaction due to the Garbage Patch’s somewhat invisible nature. Most of the waste lies beneath the ocean’s surface, and a majority consists of microplastics, the smaller particles of plastic that have broken down from photodegradation.
While visiting the island, Sun captures disturbing footage, including beaches filled with more plastic pieces than sand, massive nylon (a form of plastic) fishing nets that have ripped off sections of coral, and dead albatross with stomachs lined with bits of plastic. One of the wildlife volunteers on the island said they cleaned up 123 tons of plastic in just a four-month span.
The film describes an array of direct consequences for humans. The plastics in the ocean absorb persistent organic pollutants, which are toxic chemicals. When marine animals mistakenly ingest plastics filled with these, it goes up the food chain. The fish (and fish oils) we consume could contain pollutants that deeply affect our functioning.
Additionally, in one study bisphenol A (BPA) was found in the urine samples of over 90 percent of people tested. BPA is found in most plastic goods, including water bottles and the lining of thermal paper receipts. The film details that BPA is a synthetic estrogen (and known endocrine disruptor). Sun herself undergoes an experiment to find out if simply holding a thermal paper receipt causes an absorption of BPA through her skin (spoiler alert: it does).
Many cities have already taken a stand by charging for or banning plastic bags. San Francisco just banned the sale of plastic water bottles on city property. How else can we fight back besides supporting these initiatives? Like most things, the changes have to start from the individual level. The film emphasizes the power we have to vote with consumer demand, which starts with the individual leading by example. This handy guide details which types of plastic are present in different items, and tips on how you can replace them to get plastic out of your life and reduce your plastic footprint.