Screening of ‘A Plastic Ocean’ in Southall


Ealing FoE with members of Southall Transition Movement held a public viewing of the award-winning documentary 'A Plastic Ocean' at St. John's Parish Centre in Southall.


The film was made by journalist Craig Leeson and free diver Tanya Streeter, helped by a team of scientists and environmentalists, in order to highlight the dangers posed by plastic pollution to our oceans’ eco-systems.


The film offered a fascinating insight into the way scientists conduct their research, through visits to the countries and regions of our oceans that are the most affected.


Apart from having a devastating effect on wildlife such as shearwaters, albatross, turtles, whales, dolphins and seals, plastic pollution is slowly poisoning the native populations who live near or on the trash outlets of the world's most-polluting rivers.


Cancer-inducing chemicals are either breathed in when these populations use plastic as a cheaper alternative to kerosene to light their cooking fires, or enter the body when they are swimming and playing in the waters of the trash-laden shores.


The contamination of water is now worldwide, and scientists estimate that there is more micro-plastic than plankton in our oceans. This means that micro-plastic is present in the entire ocean-wide food chain, so that when you eat fish, you are likely also to be ingesting plastic.


The consequences for the 2.6 billion people who depend on protein from the sea, let alone those who depend on fishing for their livelihood, are grave. Mussels and prawns are particularly susceptible to plastic contamination, because the resulting foodstuffs include the creature's digestive tract, as compared with, for example, a fish fillet. The Mediterranean is known to be particularly polluted, and mussels harvested from France have tested positive for bisphenol A and phthalates.


Proposed solutions


After the film, we divided into two groups. We discussed the fact that some of the solutions proposed by the film makers have drawbacks in themselves. For example, recycling plastic into diesel is simply creating another source of pollution.


To take on plastic is to take on consumerism itself, and we acknowledged the complexity of returning this particular evil sprite to Pandora’s box. However, we took comfort in the thought that the problem is one that we can address if enough of us demand it. A heartening example of action shown in the film was the decision of Rwanda's government to ban the use of plastic bags.


A two-pronged approach is urgently needed to tackle the problem: lobbying governments to phase out use of the bags as soon as possible, except in exceptional cases, and persuading consumers that they should refuse to use the bags.


Seven of the 10 largest plastic producers are oil and natural gas companies, so as long as they are extracting fossil fuels, there will be a huge incentive to manufacture plastic.


The fight against the use of fossil fuels and the switch to renewables should help counteract the rising production of plastics. The majority of pollution originates in countries such as China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam, though it was our own industrial revolution that triggered the developments that led to the current situation. But we can follow countries such as Belgium in putting in place mitigation measures, and thereby become a role model.


Choose plastic-free alternatives


Attendees were reminded to access the campaign information and advice on Friends of the Earth’s website and to participate in the Plastic Free Friday challenge, swapping household products with alternatives.


Some ideas are to replace toiletries in plastic bottles, such as shampoo, shower and soap liquids, for solid bars; plastic-wrapped toilet rolls for paper-wrapped ones; and bottled cleaning products for good old-fashioned baking soda and vinegar. Also, shoppers should choose unpackaged goods as far as possible and, if not, take the product out of its packaging and leave it with the seller.


If more of us persistently expressed our displeasure as customers, manufacturers would start getting the message, as indeed they show signs of doing. At the same time, our group has applied to meet our MPs in order to ask them to pledge support of legislative changes.


Finally, it is worth repeating what one of the film's presenters said, after having tried hard to find ways to protect her young offspring from contamination from plastic products: ''I am an optimist, as it is better than being the opposite.''