In line with an upsurge in commercial culture post World War II, industry shrewdly spent a large part of the 1950’s broadcasting to our society the idea that the future lay in plastics. Cheap, versatile and durable, the synthetic material is now a ubiquitous feature of daily, modern life. From preserving the food we consume, toiletries we apply and accessories we work with to encasing the very cars we drive, plastics are simply all pervasive. What long went unspoken however and is only becoming apparent now, is the manifold danger of this non-degradable and toxic substance – not only to our oceans and sea-life but to the very future and sustainability of our species.
New documentary A Plastic Ocean channels these themes and follows director Craig Leeson, whose love for the ocean and fascination with whales in particular extends back to his boyhood in the coastal town of Burnie, Tasmania. As an adult, this ardor would propel him to the coasts of Sri Lanka for the chance to photograph the elusive True Blue and Pygmy whales. While he would encounter these magnificent creatures in all their majesty and splendor he was also shocked to find a thick layer of discarded plastics contaminating their habitat. Compelled to action, Leeson teams up with world-champion deep-sea diver and ardent environmentalist Tanya Streeter and an international team of adventurers, scientists, and environmental ambassadors to examine the damage being done to our environment by an industry that now dumps over eight million tonnes of plastic into our oceans annually.
Shot over the course of four years and traversing the globe from the slums of the Philippines to the sun kissed sands of the Mediterranean coast, Leeson takes us on a breathtaking aquatic expedition that is sure to make you re-assess your relationship with ‘disposable plastics’. Featuring at once dazzling and heartbreaking underwater cinematography, A Plastic Ocean navigates the ocean’s planes and descends all the way to the bottom of its floor, to show us just how far this problem now extends. Beyond even the perceptible, Leeson charts how larger pieces of plastic break up into microplastics that alarmingly move up the food-chain presenting a potential threat to human health. Back on land, we are also shown how even ‘industry-approved’ products like bottles and food containers used in consumption leach toxins containing harmful estrogenic activity.
Leeson’s background in investigative journalism shines here. He avoids the impulse to act as a doomsayer, depicting the harsh impact of this pollutant on our wildlife in grim and unflinching detail as well as the at-risk beauty that still remains, in equal measure. While the film is dense yet informative, it also offers moments of deep sociological insight, skilfully examining how we as a society could allow things to get to this point and what changes we are actually capable of making. Soon to become a trillion dollar industry, the sheer proliferation of plastics in the last thirty years has, Leeson asserts, given rise to a disposable culture, in which these materials are used, often once, thrown away and never given a second thought. What is now becoming clear is that our world is so interconnected that ‘thrown away’ really is an example of ‘magical thinking’. While we are often prone to cartographic projections of the world, our oceans are in actuality boundary-less, with all waste free to have a global impact. As citizens of the world, Leeson implores us to see oceans as our own backyards that we all must take responsibility for.
Offering absorbing insight into the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch and the livelihoods of Landfill Families, Leeson puts both animal and human faces to this ecological catastrophe and in doing so ultimately offers his viewers hope. Profiling contemporary change-makers and innovative new technologies set to change the way we treat plastics, the focus turns to prevention and how we all have a part to play. Described by Sir David Attenborough as “one of the most important films of our time”, A Plastic Ocean demands to be seen by all consumers – a chilling and impassioned evocation of the damage we’re inflicting upon our own planet, importantly steeped in instruction for how we can save it.