We often refer to the media as a reflection of society or, perhaps, our reality. These plastic documentaries bring to the fore the aggressive global problem of plastic pollution.
Plastic is everywhere; from grocery bags to electrical gadgets, tons and tons of plastic surround us. An average individual uses about 700 single-use plastic bags a year! That is 5 trillion globally per year. We ditch our plastic without knowing that it is coming back to us in dangerous ways.
Plastic waste often ends up in landfills and soon after in the oceans. They pose a serious threat to animals on land and in the water. Animals get entangled in webs of plastic, which they ingest or are injured by, leading to poor quality of life or death.
However, plastic waste will not decompose. Instead, they break into microscopic fragments that attract toxins. Marine life then ingests these toxic microplastics, which go up the food chain to humans. Scientists have also discovered that these microplastics can be airborne and pollute our world's fresh air.
Many people will wrinkle their noses in disgust at the sight of plastic washing up on the shores of their favorite beaches. Naturally, they agree that the sight of plastic clogging rivers, canals, and drainage is unpleasant.
However, they do not realize how much they contribute to the presence of single-use plastic in all these places. The desire for shiny new things often makes people think less about conserving rather than consuming - fueling the plastic pollution crisis.
For years, people and groups have worked to raise awareness on the issue of ocean plastic and its dangers. With fingers pointed at plastic-producing companies. As such, to better understand how we are all accomplices in the plastic poisoning of the planet, here are some plastic documentaries to watch.
Related: 38 Plastic Pollution Facts & Statistics & read more on the impact of plastic water bottles on the environment.
The Smog of the Sea covers a one-week expedition by oceanographer Marcus Eriksen and six other people. He travels with a musician, Jack Johnson, body surfer; Mark Cunnigham, surfers; Keith and Dan Malloy, Plastic Movement activist; Kristal Ambrose, and spearfisher Kimi Werner. The documentary captures their journey through the Sargasso Sea of the North Atlantic.
In the film, the participants pick through a collection of ocean debris, sorting out the plastic packaging and waste. They realize that the plastic has bite marks on them, indicating feeding activity by marine animals. They experience a more alarming revelation when they realize that even microplastic particles are not only in water but everywhere else, too.
Check out their website here for screening and updates.
This plastic documentary film dives deep into the depths of microplastics. A Plastic Ocean documents how toxic microplastics have outnumbered plankton in the oceans. The film successfully describes how microplastics endanger the animals that rely on marine ecosystems. The film featured interviews with experts who gave insight into the problem of plastic waste.
Australian journalist Craig Leeson teamed up with environmental activists and diver Tanya Streeter on a trip around the globe in the documentary. Produced by Jo Ruxton, the film successfully sends a clear message about the severe impact of plastic on the ecosystem and our health.
Photographer Chris Jordan worked for many years to capture the scenes that would make up this documentary. The film presents the dilemma of the Albatrosses of Midway Island on the Pacific. It features grisly images of dead birds with their open stomach packed full of tiny plastic bits.
The film uses sparse narration and images to tell a moving story of young birds dying from being fed with plastic by their parents. Of course, the parent birds are not purposely killing their young. They're only feeding their chicks the same way they were fed, with small "fish" swimming close to the water's surface. Overall, the film has an overall note of spiritual meditation, seeking to arouse deep reflection on the consequences of discarded plastic.
The filming process for this documentary took over two years. The host goes on a trip around the world, spanning five continents, trying to understand plastic pollution better. The film starts with an extensive listing of plastic waste types in all its forms around us today. It details the rise of plastic in the last century and its equally rising toxic impact on the ecosystem.
The documentary, through interviews with experts, also explores solutions to recycling, toxicity, and biodegradability of plastic.
Deia Schlosberg filmed this documentary at different locations in the United States, the Philippines, Indonesia, China, and India. It highlights the many dangers caused by the existence of plastic, from production to disposal.
The film shows garbage-filled fields, mountains of waste, waterways clogged up with waste, and poisonous emissions from the plastic production process fueled by the oil and gas industry.
Interviews of experts and activists give insights into the disaster of plastic pollution and efforts being made to stop plastic from killing the ecosystem. Additionally, the film contains archival industry footage from the 1930s and first-person narrations. As a result, the documentary opines that stopping the mass production of plastic is the real solution to tackling our plastic problem.
Set in a plastic recycling factory in Shandong province, China, this plastic documentary takes a close look at two families in the plastic wasteland. Wang Jiuliang directed this documentary which took 18 months to film.
Unlike some of the other plastic documentary films, Plastic China tells the story of how families, without expert knowledge or taking proper health precautions, sort through heaps of imported rubbish.
Exposing, for example, the factory owner who is solely interested in making a profit neither cares nor knows of the health hazard faced by his workers who happen to live right next to the dump site.
The film explores the reality of so-called plastic recycling factories, bringing to light how less-than-stellar plastic disposal practices endanger lives.
Watch it on Amazon here.
Plastic Planet, directed by Werner Boots, touches on the very core of plastic waste accumulation: the human who seemingly cannot live without plastic. It gives a realistic picture of why plastic is so popular and how deeply ingrained it is in our daily lives. It shows quite plainly how Its convenience, beauty, and practicability have a seductive appeal.
The documentary centers on the conflicting feeling of wanting to do right by the planet and wanting the convenience that plastic offers. The documentary uses the first-person point of view, with Werner as the narrator, to tell its story. In the film, we see him travel the world and document the impact of plastic on humans and different environments.
Termed as a Mockumentary, The majestic plastic bag is a humorous account of a plastic bag's journey to the Pacific Ocean. The documentary features only one character: the plastic bag that overcomes various obstacles in its determination to reach its destination. The film uses a reverse psychology approach to pass its message on the danger of plastic pollution.
It presents the plastic bag, aptly named "our bag," as the hero and human clean-up services as villainous. The film, through irony, exposes the dangers of plastic and how dangerous one plastic bag floating aimlessly actually is. As such, it challenges negligence and urges everyone to take proper responsibility for "our bag."
Journalist Angela Sun offers new insights into the damaging effects of plastic in this documentary. The opening scene shows plastic objects being removed from the cut-open stomach of a dead bird. The documentary thereafter follows Sun to the Midway Atoll, an island of historical significance as a battleground during World War ll. However, she finds herself confronted with a massive garbage island on getting there.
Hence, the film exposes how plastic waste is destroying the coral reefs and is being consumed by humans through fish. Aiding credibility, the film features interviews with scientists, oceanographer Jean-Michel Cousteau, and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger speaking against the plastic bag glut.
One bag was all it took for Telluride local Jeb Berrier to begin questioning the plastic bag culture. This documentary, directed by Suzan Beraza, shows the process of awareness an ordinary man goes through to realize the dangers of plastic. Jeb launches an investigation that leads him to discover and understand environmental issues related directly to plastic.
Jeb also relates medical problems like male infertility, diabetes, and obesity to the presence of plastic. The film highlights the danger of phthalates, a chemical found in plastic, and some baby shampoos. In the end, the film shows the ways that everyday people can minimize the harmful effects of plastic waste.
Of course, single-use plastics are a menace in every part of the world. Set in Asia, Alon views the issue of plastic pollution in the ocean through the lenses of the local surfers. The film captures the views of six surfing communities. The surfers themselves are eco-warriors who are actively helping to save the environment.
In the film, surfers find floating plastic garbage as proof that there is an extensive presence of plastic from Luzon to the Visayas and Mindanao. Unfolding events reveal just how disturbing finding plastic trash in the clean oceans is. Also, no place is safe from the ever-moving plastic waste. Award-winning filmmaker Gabby Fernandez directed this documentary.
These documentaries clearly show that It is important to adjust our lifestyles and purchases to protect the environment better. We can achieve change if we're willing to lose our consumerist habits and return to the basics.
All of us have contributed to building the menace of plastic waste. But, with conscious, concerted effort, we can change the tide and save our planet.
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.