Life in the Age of Plastic
Environment / While sailing from Hawaii to California in 1997, Capt. Charlie Moore discovered what would come to be called the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” In the doldrums and swirling currents of the North Pacific Gyre, Moore found a toxic soup of floating plastic debris everywhere he looked for hundreds of miles. The amount of trash disturbed him so much that he has devoted his life to educating people about the environmental, economic and human-health hazards of plastic pollution.
“We need to wake up to the fact that we live in the ‘Age of Plastic’,” Moore says. “Plastic is everywhere, and it has properties that the biosphere can’t handle…so it becomes this permanent blight.”
Since the dawn of the Plastic Age 50 years ago, our shores have become inundated by a tsunami of plastic pollution. During one visit to Kamilo Beach on the Big Island’s South Point, Moore called the area “Plastic Beach” because what looked like sand was mostly a thick layer of micro-plastics and petroleum-based refuse.
Moore and members of his Algalita Marine Research Foundation will be returning to Hawaii this week to present several papers at the 5th International Marine Debris Conference. Organized by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the United Nations Environment Programme, the conference will take place March 20-25, and bring together international marine debris researchers, scientists, policy makers, environmental leaders, industry representatives and marine-debris artists.
One controversial aspect of the conference is that it’s partly sponsored by Coca-Cola and the American Chemistry Council (ACC), a powerful lobbying group that represents the plastics industry and some of the largest petro-chemical corporations in the world. While attending the Marine Debris Conference, some environmental activists and artists will also present their own public events, film screenings and art exhibits that highlight the problem of plastic pollution and question the ACC’s sponsorship.
NOAA organizers argue that the ACC’s sponsorship is only financial and will not affect the substance of the conference’s workshops, presentations or policies. But artist Dianna Cohen disagrees. “The fact that the ACC and Coke are sponsoring this conference to find solutions to the plastic pollution problem is a direct conflict of interests and a clear case of greenwashing,” she says.
Cohen is the co-founder of the Plastic Pollution Coalition, a global alliance of individuals, organizations and businesses working together to stop plastic pollution and its toxic impacts on humans, animals and the environment. Cohen doesn’t like the generic term “marine debris,” especially as the title of the conference. “If over 80 percent of what we are finding in the ocean is plastic, then let’s call it what it is: plastic pollution.”
Cohen will be joining artists from across the country and around the world to host an exhibit called Art and the Ocean at the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Architecture Auditorium on Thursday, March 24. Many of these artists are also working on film projects about plastic pollution, and they will be organizing a movie night at Mark’s Garage on Sunday, March 20. The event will begin with a talk by eco-adventurer Roz Savage and include videos by artists/filmmakers such as Angela H. Pozzi (Washed Ashore); Teresa Espaniola (Navigators of a New Time); Pam Longobardi (Drifters) and head organizer Barbara Benish (The S.S. Palo Alto Project). Their central message is to support legislative and community efforts to reduce the proliferation of single-use plastic bags, bottles and marine debris.
The Surfrider Foundation will be co-hosting a screening of the award-winning documentary Bag It with the Monday Night Movie Cafe at bambuTwo on Bethel Street on March 21. The film examines the environmental and human-health hazards of plastics in general and the efforts to reduce single-use plastic bags and bottles in particular. With two bills in the Hawaii State Legislature right now to ban plastic bags (SB 1059) or impose a small fee on plastic and paper bags (SB 1363), this documentary couldn’t be more timely.
The bills have the support of a broad and diverse coalition of environmental groups (including the Surfrider Foundation, the Sierra Club, the Kokua Hawaii Foundation, Kanu Hawaii and many others), large grocery stores like Safeway and Times Supermarkets and trade groups such as the Retail Merchants of Hawaii and the Hawaii Food Industry Association. But the ACC is actively working to sabotage these bills here in Hawaii and across the country.
“The attack dogs of the ACC that are dealing with initiatives to ban [or impose a fee on] plastic bags and Styrofoam start all of these frivolous lawsuits and media campaigns to throw monkey wrenches into this legislative agenda,” says Moore. “They’re using millions and millions of dollars that they get from these giant international corporations to battle against citizen groups and their efforts to ban what they see as contaminants of the environment.”
Moore will finish up his time in the Islands as a speaker at the Surfrider Foundation’s Rise Above Plastics RAP Party on Saturday, March 26, at the Waikiki Aquarium. The event will also include an exhibit of plastic marine debris artwork. “It stops you in your tracks when you see these works of art, and it makes you rethink the way things are,” Moore adds.
As Cohen says, “Through all of these satellite art shows, film screenings, workshops and events, we intend to create a real dialogue with the local community about the disaster of plastic pollution.”
Sat., 3/19, 10am-2pm: Mural Art Project at Muumuu Heaven in Kailua. Artists will help local kids construct a wall using washed-up plastics from local beach cleanups.
Sun., 3/20, 8-10pm: Movie Night at Mark’s Garage in Chinatown. Artists/filmmakers will show short films about their marine debris projects around the world.
Mon., 3/21, 7pm: Screening of Bag It with the Monday Night Movie Cafe at bambuTwo on Bethel.
Thu., 3/24, 4-9pm: Art and the Ocean exhibit and talks at the UH-Manoa Architecture Auditorium.
Sat., 3/26, 6pm: Surfrider’s Rise Above Plastics Rap Party at Waikiki Aquarium. Marine debris art exhibits and a talk by Capt. Charlie Moore.