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?

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The Queen of Zero Waste

Bea Johnson is the current Queen of Zero Waste and her book and blog Zero Waste Home are great resources for anyone looking to adopt a more zero waste lifestyle. Her family of four generates just one jar of trash per year (an ideal I don’t think I’ll ever reach) by living according to the 5 R’s:

  1. Refuse: Do not accept what you do not need or bring unnecessary objects into your home.
  2. Reduce: Use less of what you do need to bring into your home.
  3. Reuse: Repair or repurpose things such as glass jars for food storage.
  4. Recycle: Recycle things that cannot be repaired.
  5. Rot: Compost food waste, organic materials etc.

By following these 5 R’s, we can generate less trash because we are not thoughtlessly consuming things that we do not need.

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I recently picked up a copy of Zero Waste Home to learn more about Johnson and her approach to zero waste living. Her book is honest about the challenges of zero waste, the zero waste habits she has abandoned (such as making her own butter), and the joy of living a life that is less cluttered and more sustainable. When we are no longer focused on consuming what marketers tell us we should want, we can focus on the people around us and enjoy memories instead of objects.

Johnson provides great tips for home and work, grocery shopping essentials, and DIY recipes to replace products and things we would otherwise purchase from conventional stores. I look forward to trying her recipes for cough drops, tooth “paste”, and multipurpose cleaner. She does a wonderful job of providing an ABC list every chapter with zero waste tips, some of which are easily adopted and others that take more effort. Her motive is not to get every single family to live the way hers does, but she does want people to put more thought into the ways they consume.

As with any other person, there are aspects of Johnson’s lifestyle I do not align with. I do not plan to adopt her strict minimalist wardrobe and I do not think DIY makeup (made from things like cocoa powder and beetroot) is for me. Her family also eats meat, which I think is pretty antithetical to the zero waste lifestyle (and a critique she mentions she has heard from many in the zero waste community). But when each of us adopts zero waste choices that work for us in our situation, our collective efforts can have a transformative impact.

What really struck a chord with me is her discussion of finding ways to make the zero waste lifestyle sustainable for the individual. Johnson went overboard in the initial part of her journey, turning away bottles of wine from friends, making her own butter, and driving all over San Francisco to find bulk bins. While the zero waste lifestyle requires more planning than we are used to in our daily lives, it should not be a source of anxiety or cut us off from our social networks. Finding ways to make the zero waste lifestyle work for the individual in a joyous way is going to make the whole process more sustainable. This kind of thinking is why I still eat dairy (especially cheese) and take-out, use store bought makeup, and drink coffee that is shipped overseas. The reality is, a truly zero waste life is impossible. But finding ways to reduce our consumption and consume more ethically when we need to will result in less waste and (in my experience) a more joyful life.

I would recommend the Zero Waste Home to everyone. If you live in the Tacoma area reach out to me and I’d be glad to lend you my copy.

Book Review: Just Cool It!

Note: Sorry for the delayed post, I had planned to write about a trip to the farmer’s market but that seemed too trite after Charlottesville and I was struggling to think of a way to express my thoughts. So instead here’s a book review.

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Just Cool It, David Suzuki & Ian Hanington, Greystone Books, 2017

Continue reading “Book Review: Just Cool It!”