It begins with an ominous and accurate quote from a 1956 Plastics Industry speech by Lloyd Stouffer: “The future of plastics is in the trash can.”
As this thoughtful, engaging documentary proves, it is also in landfills, in the air and in our oceans.
Most people don’t think that when they’re buying a bottle of water or a zucchini wrapped in plastic they’re also lining the pockets of Shell, Chevron, Exon, Dupont, etc, but that is exactly what’s happening and that’s why this is such an important film.
‘The Story Of Plastic’ follows the life journey of this material from creation to landfill, to incinerator, to the ocean and into our food chain and estuaries.
It tells the stories of farmers, fishers and women who sort plastic for below poverty wages in India. It takes us to filthy beaches in Indonesia, landscapes covered in plastic where children play, and huge graveyards of plastic in China. We visit neighbourhoods with incinerators where people can’t breathe, develop strange cancers and have reproductive health issues. In the Philippines, where the traditional diet and an entire economy revolve around fishing, a local fisherman tells us that he now catches about 60 per cent fish and 40 per cent plastic. And that’s not the most shocking tale in this film.
Although plastic is obviously not sustainable, powerful and committed activists throughout the film including Tiza Mafira, Martin Bourke and Mao Da offer hope as they detail the fight for community action projects and for new legislation which penalises the producers and sellers of plastic. They’re working to change the laws that were put in place to protect corporations and to make them responsible for cleaning up after themselves, instead of putting that impossible task on you and me and our overwhelmed local government bodies.
This is further complicated by the aggression of the corporations, who have been terrified by the 'buy local' trend for years and have also anticipated a declining use of fossil fuels, which means they’ve doubled down on their cash cow – plastic. They continue to pump out ever more plastic and flood the marketplace, even as governments and consumers wise up and work on plastic bans and other environmental fixes to hold them to account. They work to expand into new markets as fast as they can, South Africa being one of their latest targets.
It’s a film filled with important information and terrifying statistics, including the fact that by 2015, 400 metric tonnes of plastic had been created, with half of that produced since 2000. It does manage to be entertaining and hopeful, despite its serious message.
In the end, you and I can’t recycle our way out of this, but we can use our collective power to pressure our governments to hold plastic producers responsible. Considering that the oil industry receives 5.2 trillion dollars annually in government subsidies, that will be no small task.
This is an important film. See it.
'The Story Of Plastic' is playing at Transitions Film Festival (Cinema Nova) 5 March.