Over the past 50 years, plastics have wormed their way into our lives to such an extent that today we literally can’t live without them. One problem is that the raw materials we need to make most plastics from come from oil. A second problem is, they are so cheap and plentiful, we tend to use them once and throw them away, choking our landfills and waterways with plastic waste than can take decades to break down.
One significant pathway to protecting our planet is to stem the flow of plastics into the environment. Documentary film maker Deia Schlosberg has spent 3 years creating a video that documents the scourge of plastics in exquisite detail. This Wednesday, on Earth Day, her video The Story Of Plastics will be featured on the Discovery Channel and broadcast to audiences in 134 countries. Here’s the trailer.
Schlosberg graduated from Montana State University with a master’s degree in science and natural history film making. In an interview with the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, she says she wanted to make videos “to communicate stories of environmental and social justice.”
Not content to simply show mountains of plastic waste, she says she wanted to tell the larger story of people whose health is harmed by refineries and environments flooded with plastic waste. Her purpose is to show that this crisis resulted from “the deliberate tactic by the fossil fuel and petro-chemical industries” to spread the myth that plastics are recyclable.
That may be technically true, but it ignores the fact that the World Economic Forum found in 2018 that less than 10% is actually recycled, and only 2% is effectively recycled by turning it into something of equal value, according to Schlosberg. The upshot is that 8 million metric tons of plastic is dumped into the ocean every year. That’s the equivalent of one city garbage truck dumping a load of plastic every minute of every day.
“Society has been placated,” Schlosberg says. The industry has fooled us into thinking, “Oh, plastic is OK, we can recycle it.” The truth is that recycling plastic is expensive and difficult. “Every time they melt it, it gets degraded more and more,” she says. “It loses strength; it releases toxins. For 98% of plastic, it’s just a matter of time before it gets into the environment. It’s pretty upsetting.”
Another industry tactic has shifted the blame to consumers by making them feel plastic pollution of the land and water is their fault. “The reality,” she says, “is these shouldn’t exist in the first place. It keeps us from looking at how to change the system.” The most prominent example of that propaganda was the infamous “weeping Indian” ad bought and paid for by the plastics industry and cynically designed to convince us that plastic trash is our fault, not theirs. The worst part of the fraud is the actor, Iron Eyes Cody,- is no more a Native American than George Washington was.
Scholsberg is no dilettante journalist. In 2016, she was arrested and charged with multiple felonies for the crime of standing on a public road and filming the so-called “valve turners” who were part of the Keystone pipeline protest. “The police didn’t see the difference between a filmmaker on a public road” and the protesters, she says. It was more than a year before the charges were dismissed. “I don’t regret it,” she says. “I didn’t break any laws.”
In this time of crisis, the petrochemical industry is using the coronavirus as an excuse to continue our profligate use of plastics, arguing that we have more important things to worry about than a few plastic bags washing up on beaches 10,000 miles away, which completely misses the point of Earth Day entirely.
Since you won’t be attending any outdoor Earth Day activities this year, why not make it a point to tune in and watch Schlosberg’s video documentary. After viewing it, please feel welcome to add your thoughts in the comments section below. Thanks.
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