Film Review: A Plastic Ocean

Last weekend, I watched the 2016 documentary A Plastic Ocean. I love nature documentaries, but perhaps surprisingly, I don’t typically seek out movies about environmentalism, climate change, or food because I cannot stand the fact that they are more about propaganda than telling a factual story (like the movie What The Health which equates eating meat to 5 cigarettes a day). However, posts about A Plastic Ocean kept on popping up on my social media accounts and so I figured I should give it a chance.

Journalist Craig Leeson was in a remote part of the ocean, looking for blue whales only to find an alarming amount of plastic particulates far away from land. As a result of this experience, he partnered with a badass free diver Tanya Streeter to explores islands and oceans around the globe, finding that plastic is unavoidable pretty much everywhere on the planet.

You’ve probably heard about the Great Pacific garbage patch, a floating patch of garbage bigger than Texas. Until watching the film, I had imagined the Garbage Patch to be a literal island of giant chunks of plastic. The reality is actually more insidious. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is actually mostly made up of broken up bits of plastic particulates that are becoming a part of the global food chain. Fish, whales, and birds eat these small bits of plastic or feed them to their young. Not only can the toxic chemicals leak from the plastic into the bloodstream of these animals (which in turn we eat), they also fill their stomachs and can result in animals starving to death with a stomach full of literal garbage. The most squirm-inducing part of the film was watching scientists cut open the stomachs of dead birds and pulling out the hundreds of pieces of trash the filled their stomachs. These kinds of imagery is an important reminder that the impact of our actions stems beyond us as individuals, and for that reason we need to take them seriously. While all of us are independent beings, none of our actions are without consequence and they often impact an environment far larger than ourselves. Not to care about this is just plain selfishness.

Leeson and his team also explore how people interact with plastic. From small island nations where people’s homes are built above garbage heaps to the ubiquity of plastic packaging on food, plastic has become an inescapable part of the human experience. While the global north is responsible for the bulk of climate change, the reality is that countries in the global south, like Tuvalu, bear the brunt of the consequences of our wasteful actions. As a citizen of the global north, I have the privilege of throwing plastic away (or recycling it), thinking that once that plastic is out of my hands I don’t have to worry about it anymore. But around the world families live above plastic, scavenge for plastic for income, or burn plastic to cook their meals. I don’t think we can or should live in a world without plastic, it is ubiquitous for a reason, but we have got to rethink our idea that we need everything to be plastic and disposable.

I would definitely recommend A Plastic Ocean to people. It has an obvious bias, but I think it does a good job of talking about plastic without over sensationalizing the issue. Have you seen A Plastic Ocean? What did you think and has it made you rethink how you use plastic in your daily life?