Movie on a Mission: Plastic Paradise

Our Q&A with journalist Angela Sun, who set out to investigate Midway Island in the middle of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a massive trash heap in a remote part of the Pacific Ocean. As seen in Plastic Paradise, the film documenting her odyssey, plastic stuff makes up most of the debris. And as this non-biodegradable stuff breaks down, it leaches out pollutants—only one of the ways it threatens sea life.
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Photo courtesy of Bullfrog Films

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One spot you won’t find advertised in any tourist brochure: Midway Island, in the middle of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. That didn’t stop journalist Angela Sun from setting out to investigate this massive trash heap in a remote part of the Pacific Ocean. As seen in Plastic Paradise, the film documenting her odyssey, plastic stuff makes up most of the debris. And as this non-biodegradable stuff breaks down, it leaches out pollutants—which is only one of the ways it threatens sea life. Here, Sun responds to questions about the perils of plastic.

The film shows how discarded fishing nets made from plastic—comprising the bulk of the patch’s marine debris—are entrapping sea life and destroying coral reefs. What’s being done so the fishing industry takes responsibility?

No international regulations now exist regarding these discarded nets, and a lot of illegal fishing is going on worldwide. There are small businesses collecting fishing nets to use as raw materials for other goods: Bureo Skateboards in South America, and EcoAlf, a sustainable fashion line from Madrid, which is looking into incentivizing fisherman to bring back those ghost nets.

Last fall, California became the first state in the U.S. to ban the use of plastic shopping bags. What impact will that have?

I think it will have a huge impact, as California is the eighth largest economy in the world and a leader in all things green. I think it will have a domino effect regarding all those states that are leaning toward the ban of plastic shopping bags.

Can you explain why, as the movie argues, recycling is a bit of a myth?

Recycling is a way to delay action. It’s saying, Hey, let’s continue buying unnecessary things, and line the pockets of companies that promote this, as long as you can recycle. There’s no emphasis on stopping the problem at the source. Also, each city has different recycling regulations, and collection isn’t uniform. Most plastics do not get recycled, and for the small portions that do, there are only specific things that recycled plastic can become, whereas glass or metal can be recycled into an infinite amount of goods without the breakdown of its properties.

If someone has a New Year’s resolution to reduce use of plastics, where would you advise starting?

I would say keep it simple. Start by simply saying no to single-use plastic for two weeks. We have some great tips on our Web site and also have a pledge to join others worldwide.

It’s hard to change your lifestyle, but every little step counts. I love this quote from Martin Luther King Jr.: “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” I have faith in humanity, and I believe we can change our mentality in response to all this disposable plastic, because we have to. There’s plastic in the wildest of animals and in the most remote ends of the earth and depths of the seas. It’s time to wake up.

Photo courtesy of Bullfrog Films

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