Film & Television · Health · News

Plastic Planet: Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid. (VIDEO)

Plastic Planet is the story of a love affair gone sour. Before long, it morphs into a horror movie: the beloved becomes ever more attractive and insinuates himself into the lover’s life until he has made her completely dependent on him.

Slowly, the lover discovers that the object of her affections is in fact an alien who seduced her while secretly instilling his poison into her body. As her affections begin to wane, she discovers to her horror that no matter how she tries, she’s no longer able to get rid of him.

In other words: Plastics have colonized the earth.

In Plastic Planet, documentary filmmaker Werner Boote recounts his own relationship with plastics (an umbrella term for synthetics). It begins with an early infatuation fostered by his grandfather, an executive in the nascent plastic industry. He shared his enthusiasm for the new substance with his grandson and presented him with novel toys every weekend. The little boy loved his shiny, colorful playthings, and as he grew up he increasingly discarded things made of glass and wood and metal and replaced them with lighter, cheaper, multi-functional plastic.

Boote’s first inkling that something might be amiss came in 1999, when he was 34. He read about fish dying in England because of a synthetic substance in the rivers. Then he learned that the seas of Greenland are poisoned and that plastic detritus is invading the Pacific Ocean. Concerned about these troubling developments, Boote undertook a quest that led him all over the globe. Plastic Planet is a chronicle of that odyssey in search of answers and truth.

The film opens with Boote questioning an industry spokesman about the safety of the 240 million tons of plastic produced yearly worldwide. The executive promotes the utility and versatility of plastics and insists that synthetics are nothing but beneficial. But interviews with a geneticist, a marine biologist, an endocrinologist, and other experts belie those assurances as the scientists explain their investigations and describe the pernicious effects of plastic on the planet and on our bodies. The glaring discrepancies bring to mind the lies of Big Tobacco depicted in The Insider (1999), and the line of tobacco CEOs testifying before Congress that nicotine is not addictive.

We were sold on synthetics because they are cheaper, lighter and much longer-lasting than natural materials. We should have been more careful about what we wished for, because now we’re paying a high price for plastic’s longevity. Boote examines the pervasiveness of plastic waste in even sparsely populated places like the Sahara Desert, the Pacific Ocean, and an erstwhile idyllic Japanese island.

The devastation of nature and its pristine beauty is readily apparent, but the insidious danger of plastic is invisible. Chemists inform Boote that plastic is not incorruptible. It degrades slowly, over centuries, and as it decays it leaches out some of its components. Manufactured from petroleum, plastic also contains toxic additives. Biologists are studying how these chemicals enter the food chain and their consequent effects on our bodies. Experts believe that no one alive today is without a measurable quantity of Bisphenol A (the most widely used industrial chemical) in the bloodstream and other bodily tissues. Among the effects of these chemicals on human health are cancer, disruptions in brain function, asthma, and endocrinological impact that results in cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and infertility.

Even if one is well informed, it is still exceedingly difficult to avoid ingesting toxic components of plastic. The manufacturers of final products do not make the plastic itself, so they don’t know the composition of the materials they use. These formulas are proprietary; the multinationals who develop and produce synthetics guard their secrets very closely. Their huge clout and vast resources enable them to suppress evidence of toxicity and resist demands for disclosure of the constituents of their products.

As an exposé, Plastic Planet is riveting. With the exception of a vapid scene in the office of a plastic surgeon and a ghoulish, way-too-long segment about the plastic mummification of the human body, this documentary compels attention. Boote alternates talking-head interviews with animated segments, time-lapse sequences, and vintage footage from the 1950s—television ads rhapsodizing over the wonders of nylon stockings and Tupperware. He visits mountain peaks and lagoons, and tours factories and garbage dumps.

You’ll leave a screening of Plastic Planet with a new understanding of the dilemma we face: the very substance that, over the 20th century, significantly changed how we live has taken us over. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to live with plastic, yet almost impossible to do without it or even to get rid of it. Still, the first step is understanding the problem, and Boote’s informative and intelligent documentary is an excellent place to start.

Plastic Planet is currently playing in New York and other cities (see below). For more information on screenings, check Fandango.com.

New York, NY Cinema Village Opened January 14 Hudson, NY Time & Space LTD January 27 – 30 Ottawa, ON Mayfair Theatre January 28, 29 & February 3

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  • Kathy Rogers January 17, 2011 at 9:30 pm

    Thank you, Diane, for making us aware of this important documentary. This is a big, tough issue, but, as you so insightfully point out, the first step is understanding the problem. Plastic Planet just went from being off my radar screen to the top of my must-see list, thanks to your helpful review.

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