Monday, 30 April 2012

Garbage Island

A few days ago, I was going through the free documentaries on youtube and came across Garbage Island, a documentary by Vice that was released in 2009.  I decided to watch this particular documentary because it is so closely related to the WaPreG goal.  It is our human waste products that have caused this problem, particularly our plastic waste. I think everyone should make a point of checking it out, especially since it is free!

In this documentary, a crew of six people sails to the North Pacific Gyre (generally I am not a fan of wikipedia, however this page has one paragraph and that is why I chose to use it, as I would hope you will read up more on the topic), with the goal of acquiring samples of the water in that area.  These samples and the footage of this trip are meant to increase awareness of the problem of the excessive use of plastics since their existence.  In the end, Garbage Island is about the excessive amount of plastic waste in the ocean, which has broken down into particles that are further breaking down into toxic materials that hold toxic chemicals and pesticides that are now found in abundance in the ocean.  The fauna within the ocean ingest these products, which will eventually be ingested by ourselves.  Interestingly, a point that was mentioned is that there are already high levels of plastic particles found in humans, though I do not recall the number or where in the film this was mentioned.

The relevance of the film to WaPreG is the fact that it is all about waste and its extensive effects on the environment.  This film looked primarily at plastic waste however one glass jar was rescued from the gyre.  What is important to note is that no matter who you are or where you are from, your use of plastics and your waste will have an effect on the whole planet and others with whom you share the planet.

A point of interest:
While within the gyre, the crew found a mass of nets; it was an exciting moment when they found it.  I was fascinated at seeing the shots of this under the water and after collecting the nets, watching them realize how many nets that mass really was (uncountable) was amazing.  It is one thing to know the nets can be left in the ocean and can catch anything while floating as ghost-nets, but seeing how many will catch each other is completely different.  Also, seeing that they caught so many of the plastics within the ocean was both comforting, since they are taking the larger pieces, and disheartening, because this is how bad we have let the oceans get.

The purpose of this particular documentary is to show viewers to what extent the problem is now at; the gyre is not an island, like the title implies.  Instead, the gyre is actually a trash soup, as mentioned in this and a few other documentaries.  The subject was both viewed critically and described.  The advantage of having the crew narrating the film is that the audience was able to both see and hear what was being observed and to hear how the crew members thought about this in a critical way.  The film was not ideological, however it touched on the current paradigm of the overuse of plastics and how that is affecting our oceans.  To understand the documentary, it is important to understand that plastic is not a necessary product, but is actually a social construct.  It is a material one, but a social construct nonetheless.  In understanding this, the documentary is enlightening, rather than discouraging.

What needs to be done was told, i.e. that though we cannot clean the ocean, we can stop using these plastics that are ending up in our oceans, so that the ocean can clean itself out with time, by depositing these particles and pieces on our beaches.  What was left unsaid, however, is how we can stop using plastics.  Plastics are a large part of society at this point, so many feel it is impossible to live without plastics.  The solution that is given is vague, making it difficult for the viewer to act on the solution, as it may seem impossible for many.  We need to remember that at one time in the not-so-distant past, we did not use plastics.  We can survive without plastic and can only guarantee our survival if we stop using them, as can be seen in this documentary.

There is no way to clean the ocean.  We can only know about the problem and prepare for the future and stop it from getting worse.  Though this documentary does not come up with the solutions, WaPreG has the goal to find those solutions with people and help them to apply those solutions to achieve their personal or group goals.  We are going to help Ghanaians start the dialogue about trash in Ghana.  From there, we will facilitate the finding of solutions for preventing the use of plastic.  A comment was made by a crew member about the need for developing countries (like Ghana) to reduce their waste.  It was acknowledged that developed countries are not helping the problem by throwing their waste in these countries (such as e-waste in Ghana).  WaPreG wants to change that at least in Ghana, by helping Ghanaians prevent the waste that is degrading the local environment.  One important thing to know, however, is that the global environment is just as badly affected as the local by that same waste.

Now, here is a quote by Stanley Tucci:
Like Joseph Mitchell, I would scour the streets of New York and find little pieces of what other people people think of as junk and collect it.

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