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The Story of Plastic – community screening

event report

At the beginning of the summer, we organised an online community screening of “The Story of Plastic“. Links were provided for participants to watch the film and it was followed by a video-call conversation / debate.

The film is a stark – and sometimes dark – reminder of a number of unsettling facts about the plastic industry.

To start with, the idea that recycling alone can be the solution is largely debunked for a number of reasons. As it is pointed out, the shear amount of plastic being produced is simply unmanageable (from 2 million metric tons in 1950 to 322 million generated in just 2015). One of the byproducts of this situation is western countries dumping their waste into someone else’s backyard to be sorted out while calling it recycling. This has obvious health implications for people in the countries receiving this waste stream, both through generalised plastic pollution in the environment, but also for workers being asked to recycle all this waste using equipment or techniques that are exposing them to dangerous substances and gases.

Some of the most striking points the film makes are in relation to the hypocrisy of key players of the plastic sector. Whilst running PR campaigns in western countries about their investments to tackle plastic waste and improve recyclability of their products and packaging, some of these companies shamelessly continue to sell the same products in single-use plastic packaging in countries where social pressure to address this issue is not perceived as such a direct threat.

Similarly, the manipulation of the masses by petrochemical companies is laid bare, as enhanced recycling or cleanup projects are shown to constitute a diversion from the actual problem which is the overproduction of plastic in the first place. Blaming the end user or even local authorities that are expected to clean up the mess is a very effective tactic to take the actual root cause out of the limelight. As one interviewee points out, only when the petrochemical companies creating the issue are asked to properly deal with the consequence and pay for end-of-life management of their products will we start seeing improvements. At the moment, central and local governments are paying their bills and communities all over the world – as well as wildlife – are carrying their burden.

A most striking metaphor in the film is showing a bathtub that we are trying to empty with a spoon while the tap is still fully open. The spoon is for localised actions like cleanups and the film is in no way advocating against these. It is merely pointing out that it will remain a drop in the ocean as long as we don’t close the tap by making the plastic industry accountable and thus drastically reducing platic production.

As demoralising as it can be to hear this as grassroot campaigners, one can’t help seeing the truth in that assessment and it is yet another great reminder that there is no opposing the different types of environmental actions. From volunteers organising local actions in their communities and raising awareness, to campaigners working full time to influence government policies or activists calling for change through non violent direct action, all are needed if we are to collectively make a difference.

If you would like to see the film and share it with others, visit the website’s community screening page for more details: .

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