Published : Thursday, February 1, 2018 | 4:19 PM
The Global Initiatives Program at Poly seeks to provide students with experiences that broaden their perspectives on global issues by hosting travel programs, cultural immersion, and events, the most recent of which was a screening of the documentary “A Plastic Ocean” with an accompanying discussion with the film’s producer, Adam Leipzig. The event was exceptionally well received, as it was attended by multiple grade levels spanning three divisions and by faculty from several departments at Poly as well. Interdepartmental participation in this event was one of the unique successes that the screening achieved, and hopefully, in doing so, it was able to reach a broader audience.
I had the opportunity to introduce this event, along with fellow Global Scholar candidate Sachi T. ’18, and I moderated the discussion with Leipzig afterward. “A Plastic Ocean” addresses the difficult problem of marine plastic pollution by informing the viewer about the nature and scale of this issue. The film offers a harrowing look at the scope of plastic pollution of the world’s oceans, which is made alarmingly clear through well-researched statistics and impactful images of ecological destruction.
In a time when ecological and conservation issues are more pressing than ever, reciprocal emphasis and importance given to these issues in platforms such as the GIP events becomes imperative. The 22-minute cut of the film that was shown that evening also was screened for both the UN and the Harvard Global Health Institute, which focused primarily on the film’s take on the issue of public health in addition to the environmental impact. All too often, environmental issues are — whether intentionally or not — deemed secondary to more anthropocentric concerns, and it was to circumvent this bias that Leipzig explained the film stressed public health issues as a result of plastic pollution. By framing this problem as one that not only affects the global environment but also the health and well-being of people around the world, “A Plastic Ocean” was able to garner unilateral support for efforts to mitigate this problem from both sides of the political spectrum.
Plastic Oceans Foundation, which manages the global screening of the film, as well as a multitude of partnerships and projects with governments and social groups, has worked to turn the positive reception of the film into tangible social and political change. According to their website, the organization partners with more than 50 nonprofits, governmental agencies, businesses, and academic institutions and has achieved such notable goals as the changing of plastic waste legislation and consumption in Australia, Barbados, Peru, Thailand, and other regions.
Beyond the emphasis on the human impacts, “A Plastic Ocean” recognized the arguably more severe impact on the natural world and marine organisms. Footage of a whale suffocating on plastic, a seal caught in a plastic rope, and seabird chicks with autopsies revealing more than 15 percent of their bodyweight to have been composed of plastic waste spoke for itself in conveying the devastation that can result from human irresponsibility.
The film’s post-screening discussion with Leipzig was particularly important as a way to process the information and consider possible steps that the Poly community can take to reduce its contribution to plastic pollution of the oceans. Leipzig fielded questions on a variety of topics, ranging from the process of how plastic waste makes its way to the oceans to the future solutions and strategies that communities can employ to reduce the amount of plastic that makes it to the ocean at all. He shared the efforts that have already begun among other communities to do just that. I believe it is a reasonable goal for our own Poly community to strive for that as we work toward eliminating as much plastic waste generated by our campus as possible. Plastic utensils at lunch, plastic straws, plastic bottles, plastic-packaged snacks, and any other single-use plastics all can be phased out over the coming months and years through student-led efforts and education. I hope to see this kind of change not only in the decisions Poly makes about the actions it will take, but also as a cultural shift in the Poly community away from single-use plastics and the environmental damage they represent, as well as a move toward the adoption of ecocentric values through such conscious decisions as abandoning plastic waste.
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