Every single piece of plastic created since the 19th century is still somewhere on this planet—and much of it has been gathered into one massive Midway Atoll trash dump in the North Pacific Ocean, just off the Hawaiian archipelago.
Pretty startling, right? Angela Sun thought so. As a journalist and on-air reporter—she’s an Emmy-nominated host of shows for NBC, ESPN, Yahoo and Al Gore’s Current TV—Sun is always “trying to uncover untold stories and add information to underrepresented ones,” she says. And as someone who “surfs, scuba dives and is generally in saltwater at any chance,” she was particularly fascinated by the tale of the Midway Atoll, which has become a plastic repository for three different continents. So she packed up a camera crew and went to check it out for herself.
The resulting film, Plastic Paradise: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is a fascinating look at the phenomenon of the Midway Atoll, complete with expert interviews and firsthand accounts. The film has been earning raves on the festival circuit and will be available on DVD soon; $5 of every pre-ordered DVD goes toward 5 Gyres, an environmental nonprofit, and the rest toward setting up a college campus tour. To learn more, find out about showings near you, or to host your own community screening, visit plasticparadisemovie.com.
We asked Sun about what she learned in making the film—and how the average viewer can help.
How did this site become the repository for all this trash?
Angela Sun: The way the oceans’ currents work, it’s a bit like a toilet bowl that spins around but doesn’t actually flush. There is no other land around in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, so the northwest Hawaiian Islands act as a fine-toothed comb, collecting trash that the currents bring onto its shores. Papahånaumokuåkea Marine National Monument has become ground zero—and is now the world’s biggest trash dump. It’s estimated that 20 tons of plastic trash end up there every year—that’s a modest estimate and only tiny slice of the whole pie.
What were some of the most surprising things you learned from making the Plastic Paradise movie?
AS: Almost every piece of plastic that was ever created is still somewhere on this planet—just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there. That’s a massive amount of non-biodegradable trash in our waterways and oceans. There is plastic inside the wildest of animals in some of the most remote places on earth, and almost every single person on this planet comes in contact with plastic in some form every single day. We are intaking chemicals from plastic that we have no idea about.
This seems overwhelming–—what can the average person do to help?
AS: Recycling is great, but it hasn’t stopped the insane amount of disposable, single-use plastic from flowing into our waterways. Refuse single-use plastic: Say “no” to the straw, bring your own cup or bag when heading out for the day, bring your own to-go ware, say “no” to a lid for your coffee or bring your own. It’s also key to support local and eco-friendly products and brands and to try to buy in bulk.
We ask people to watch the film to be educated on the facts, then join us and take a two-week pledge to say “no” to single-use plastics. Just two weeks—those baby steps can really affect social change. Sharing the knowledge, we can move the needle forward, too. I love Nelson Mandela’s quote, “Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.” So spread the word!