A blog set out to explore, archive & relate plastic pollution happening world-wide, while learning about on-going efforts and solutions to help break free of our addiction to single-use plastics & sharing this awareness with a community of clean water lovers everywhere!
By 2050, plastic production will quadruple to 2 trillion pounds per
year. The U.S. alone produces 15 billion pounds of plastics a year, and
85 million plastic bottles are used every minute. Most of this plastic
is not recyclable, and much of it ends up in the ocean, where currents
bring it to an area twice the size of Texas known as the Great Pacific
Midway Atoll, four hours by plane from Honolulu, is ground zero for
this aquatic dumping ground, its beaches littered with debris.
Discarded fishing nets strangle wildlife and destroy coral reefs, and
tiny microplastic bits swallowed by birds and fish move up the food
chain, all the way to our tables.
Journalist and filmmaker Angela Sun investigated several aspects of
this complex environmental issue, its ramifications, who is
responsible, and what can be done to fix the problem in her documentary
"Plastic Paradise," a labor of love that was seven years in the making.
Why did you want to make the film?
Angela Sun: Simply because I love the oceans, and I
love storytelling. I have always been fascinated with everything under
the sea, from a young age. Growing up with immigrant Chinese parents,
things like scuba diving, surfing and swimming with sharks were
considered crazy talk. So, naturally, as the middle child I always
wanted to go the less traveled route. As a journalist, I have always
been curious and inquisitive about the world and love to explore and
uncover untold stories. The oceans needed a platform, and as a
journalist, the goal is to give a voice to the voiceless.
I was working for Current TV at the time when a colleague and good
friend of mine were discussing story ideas and this was one of them. We
were pitching it as a story for a news magazine on the network. When it
got cut due to budget and access issues, I couldn't let the story
go. From the inception of the idea to the finished locked picture, it
took about seven years.
What was your approach going into it?
My mission was to make this issue of disposable plastics
interesting to the general public and get the mainstream to understand
the gravity our incessant consumerism and dumping of waste into the
oceans. I have always held true to my mission of reaching viewers in a
landlocked area, for example, the Midwest, to care about something so
far away and seemingly out of sight, out of mind.
What were your biggest challenges?
Financing is almost every independent film's biggest challenge. I
ended up self-financing the project, which is why it took so long to
finish. It was also hard to gain access to Midway as I had applied for
permits during the time it became a national marine sanctuary. I think
the biggest challenge is having the perseverance to see this project
through to fruition. I would take breaks here and there, and people who
were helping out on the film would come and go, but it took a lot of
focus and determination to get this done. A lot of people see the glitz
and glamour of film festivals, awards and accolades, but behind all of
that, many times I have felt the lonely road.
What were the most shocking things that you learned?
The most shocking thing I learned was simply seeing those birds
with bellies full of plastic in real life. The smell too: On Midway
Atoll there is an area where they would pile up all the dead birds and
the rancid smell of decomposed remains almost made me throw up.
Additionally the thought that almost every single piece of plastic is
still somewhere on our planet is crazy! If it never goes away, and we
don't see it, it's got to be somewhere, and those albatross on Midway
are canaries in the coal mine. I was also shocked to learn that plastic
was made for war just a few decades ago, and we are just at the tip of
the iceberg with shocking statistics and findings of really how much
plastic is in our oceans.
What are the most important messages you wanted to convey?
My hope is to educate and shed light on this under-reported issue
of our plastic trash and its effects, not just on wildlife but how harmful single-use plastics truly are to our waterways and how they are rapidly making their way up the food chain and into our bodies.
We, the general public, do have influence and can be the change we
wish to see. If every single person just even did something as simple as
saying 'no' to single disposable drinks, that would have a massive
impact and save so much unnecessary waste in our environment. Where
there is a will, there is a way. The journey of making this film and
sharing it is testament to that.
I hear it took three years to get access to Midway. Why was it so difficult to get cooperation?
There was a lot of red tape gaining access initially as it was
switching to a national marine monument status, so the governmental
agencies would play ping-pong sending us back and forth. It was
difficult to get the elusive plastic industry to agree to speak. You
will have to watch the film to find out what happens!
A pile of garbage on the Midway Atoll. The trash, from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, washes up on Midway's shore.
Where has the film been shown and where can it be seen now?
We have been to over 30 film festivals, garnered eight awards, and
is now airing on Pivot TV network as well as iTunes, Amazon, Hulu,
GooglePlay, Vudu, Target Ticket. The DVD is available at our website.
It will be release on SBS TV Network in Australia in February. We are
working with BullFrog Films for educational distribution.
What has the reaction been to date?
Great reactions, and I usually get frustrated texts and messages
from friends who decide to take our two-week pledge to say no to
single-use plastics after watching the film. It's hard! But many people
have joined us and told me they have changed their lifestyle because of
the film. For more information on joining others worldwide, we have a pledge on our website.
Do you think it will make a difference? Can this problem be fixed? What will it take?
I can only hope. This problem is not going away anytime soon. It is
just going to continue to grow. With every unfortunate search for
missing planes, plastic trash in our oceans comes back into the news
cycle. As China and other nations become more industrialized, following
western ideologies of consumption, a precarious future is on the
I think simple consumer changes can help pave the way and encourage
industry to become more innovative. However, for real sweeping change,
there needs to be legislation to keep the plastic industries in check.
An example: I was fortunate to be presented an award from a California
assemblymember who helped usher the historic SB-270 bill [prohibiting
plastic grocery bags] through. He mentioned that he showed the film to
others in the state legislature before the vote, and it helped explain
the situation and what a burden it has been on taxpayers and the state
of California. That was a tangible piece of evidence that this film can
make a difference, little by little. Every day we can all be doing
something quite simple. Practice the 4th R — REFUSE — then reduce,
reuse, recycle. Say no to that straw, or bag, or coffee cup lid that
will stay on for less than five minutes. Be aware and a conscious
consumer. It starts with lowering our own consumption.
What do you hope audiences take away — and do?
I hope they take away a respect for the oceans and are moved to
taking action along with understanding the urgency for change before we
ruin ourselves just quietly. Just say no and refuse single-use plastics.