Renewable Matter # 12 / September-October

A Plastic Ocean

by Roberto Giovannini

We are constantly reminded how nature on our planet is being impacted on by humanity’s destructive action. The sea and the oceans – spaces that we are used to consider limitless and where extremely powerful natural forces are at play – have been deeply changed and transformed, year after year, during the Anthropocene.

This new era is characterized by mass extinction of plants and animals, the melting of glaciers, billions of fumes releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and above all the extensive and uncontrollable dispersal of plastic in all sorts of environments – a material that does not exist in nature, even though we currently find it in living organisms. This is the subject of A Plastic Ocean, a documentary realized by a team of environmentalists, experts and scientists who spent fours years documenting how 50 years of plastic pollution have changed the oceans. 

A Plastic Ocean is not available on TV and in cinemas yet, but we really hope that it will be released soon. British journalist and film director Craig Leeson, together with producer Jo Ruxton and free-diving champion Tanya Streeter, and featuring famous people, such as the great naturalist and documentary maker Sir David Attenborough and researcher Sylvia Earle, manage, through the power of images, to shed light on this alarming phenomenon, making complex scientific information accessible to all. From the depths of the Mediterranean to the coast of Bermuda, to the extremely remote Lord Howe Island in the Tasmanian Sea, it becomes evident that we can’t escape plastic. In Lord Howe Island, 600 km off the coast of Australia, the crew found many birds that had died of hunger, although their stomachs were full of plastic pieces. In Tuvalu – an atoll in the Pacific Ocean that is not equipped with neither landfills nor plastic recycling and exporting systems – people are forced to throw this material wherever they can, or try and burn it in a disorderly way, creating dense clouds of black smoke that are full of toxic and carcinogenic substances. 

As Leeson explains, “The message of this movie is that we have all been told a lie: that we could use plastic freely, throw it away, and then it would stay away forever. With this documentary we want to show that this away does not exist at all.”

Every year at least eight million tonnes of plastics are released into the marine environment. While in ocean areas where rubbish is concentrated – the so-called “islands” – there are about 750,000 pieces of plastic material per square kilometre, no place that the crew visited all over the world, from Hawaii to the Arctic, presented less than 20,000 micropieces of plastic per square kilometre. This means that there are no longer areas that are uncontaminated by plastic. 

This column on the presence in the media of environmental, sustainability and circular economy issues, would really like to feature positive things every edition. This time, however, we are forced to condemn two incredible and worrying decisions that Rai took in the space of a few weeks. Rai is the public channel paid for (compulsorily) by citizens’ licence fees, and for this reason it should have the courage to talk about complex matters such as the environment. The first decision involved cancelling “Scala Mercalli” from Rai3, the programme by Luca Mercalli which, in the first two series, had featured the subject of climate change and its consequences with great effectiveness. “Scala Mercalli” had certainly given rise to a heated debate. But informing and generating discussion is exactly the work of journalists, especially when they are conducting the only programme which deals specifically with what is acknowledged to be the biggest emergency on our planet, climate change. Only a couple of days later, it was made known that “Ambiente Italia” by Beppe Rovera had been removed from the Regional News. This is a programme that had been broadcast since 1990, it had a very serene style and a simple and understandable voice. Is this the new Rai? A public television channel that won’t deal with the environment? 

 

 

Film “A Plastic Ocean” , www.plasticoceans.org/film/