CHATHAM – Just by walking along the shore, it's clear how much plastic washes onto the beach from the ocean. Every year, the observation is confirmed by beach cleanups, which consistently collect more plastic than any other item.
It's not just a local problem; it's worldwide, as the makers of the documentary “A Plastic Ocean” discovered.
“It's ubiquitous, and it shouldn't be,” said Jo Ruxton, the film's producer and co-founder and director of education for Plastic Oceans Foundation, which was established to promote the film and its message.
The film will be shown this Saturday, March 4, at the Chatham Orpheum Theater as part of a day-long event called “Plastics and an Imperiled Planet,” sponsored by Pleasant Bay Community Boating, designed to highlight the issue of plastic pollution in the ocean and its harmful effect on the marine ecosystem and human health.
Along with the screening, scheduled to begin at 10 a.m., there will be a panel discussion at the Eldredge Public Library about what folks can do locally to stem the tide of plastic pollution.
Of the 300 million tons of plastic produced globally every year – half of which is designed for a single use – more than eight tons end up in the oceans. “A Plastic Ocean” travels the world to show this in very graphic ways, showing mounds of plastic on third-world beaches, plastic detritus floating in remote areas of the ocean, and animals being strangled by rings of plastic.
“It's a powerful film,” Ruxton said from a film festival in Sedona, Ariz., where the documentary was screening. “The biggest challenge is getting as many people as possible to see it.”
Ruxton worked for the World Wildlife Federation and the BBC Natural History Unit, where she was a producer on the team that made the popular “Blue Planet” documentary. On an expedition to what is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an area about 1,500 miles off San Francisco – one of several ocean “gyres” where rubbish accumulates – she expected to find a “giant island of plastic.” Instead trawls pulled up tiny bits of plastic that weren't visible but where “choking” the net.
“We were pulling up more plastic than plankton,” she said. She also learned how plastic attracts other toxic chemicals in the water, many dumped from decades of agricultural use, and how animals mistake plastic for food. The toxic-infused plastic thus enters the food chain, and stored in the fatty tissue of fish, ends up being consumed by humans.
“I realized this was a much greater story than one of just plastic pollution,” Ruxton said. All of the world's oceans are impacted and countries all over the world consume and dispose of tons of plastic. She contacted filmmaker and journalist Craig Leeson, whom she had previously worked with, and together with Sonjia Norman began the foundation to raise money. Ruxton said she didn't want the film to be a television documentary; the message was too important.
“We wanted to raise money to make a much bigger film and continue raise funds for education, scientific research and to get involved with businesses and sustainability,” she said.
Eight years after deciding to tackle the project, the documentary, which took about four years to film in 20 locations worldwide, was release this January.
It's critical to get the message out now, Ruxton said. The amount of plastic that ends up in the oceans today, eight million tons, is equal to the total plastic production in 1961. Unless something is done, the 300 million tons being produced today could be what ends up in the oceans in 50 years, she said.
“It's a tipping point now, we just can't afford it to get any worse,” she said.
Tickets for the Orpheum showing at $18 for adults, $10 for children 11 and under, and are available at the theater's website or at the box office. After the film, at about 11:30, Ruxton will hold a question and answer session via Skype from London.
At 1:30 p.m., the scene shifts to the Eldredge Public Library for a panel discussion about plastic and marine debris reduction on the Cape, moderated by Laura Ludwig, marine plastics program coordinator for the Center of Coastal Studies in Provincetown.
Panelists include Nita Tallent, chief of natural resources and science at the Cape Cod National Seashore; Jesse Mechling, director of marine education at the Center for Coastal Studies; Chris Powicki, executive committee member of the Sierra Club's Cape and Islands group; Phil Goddard, manager of facility compliance and technology development at Bourne Integrated Solid Waste Management; Shayna Ferullo, co-owner of Snowy Owl Coffee Roasters and Cafe in Brewster; and sixth grader Meredith Kinkade, co-founder of the Skip the Straw Campaign.
The Skip the Straw campaign was launched by a group of sixth graders in Falmouth, along with the Falmouth Water Stewards, to teach people easy ways to stop plastic pollution, such as “skipping the straw.” Straws are an easy way to understand how so many plastic products are made for one-time use, such as cups, bottles, bags, lids, balloons and stirrers. Members of Skip the Straw will be on hand at the panel discussion to help show young consumers how they can set up a similar campaign in their school.
The discussion, which is free and open to the public, takes place in the Forgeron Room at the library from 1:30 to 3 p.m.
“A Plastic Ocean” is also available to download and view at the Plastic Ocean Foundation website, pasticoceans.org, or on Amazon and iTunes.