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The Story of Plastic: The movie everyone should watch to understand the plastic crisis

The new documentary, ‘The Story of Plastic’, is a wakeup call to the world about the massive plastic crisis we are in the midst of. The film will premiere on Discovery Channel on April 22 in honour of Earth Day in 134 countries.

‘The Story of Plastic’ follows the life cycle of plastic from the extraction of oil and gas until it ends up as waste – and consequently in the oceans. The film maps the global paths of plastic, how recycling on a global scale has failed, and how the West’s colossal amounts of plastic waste are exported for so-called “recycling” in Asia, with major consequences for local communities and the environment.

The movie reveals how industries for decades systematically have marketed more and more plastic through clever marketing of products that the world does not need at all. All the while, the industry is blaming wasteful consumers for plastic pollution. But the truth is that these products and packaging are waste from the moment they have been produced. They were never meant to be handled or recycled.

For way too long, the debate around plastic pollution has been dominated by the conversation about how consumers can change their habits. But ‘The Story of Plastic’ is about to change that. As you will learn from watching it, there is a vast gap in the debate about responsibility and real solutions to the plastic crisis.

Naturally, everyone has a responsibility; citizens, the industry and politicians – and its is sound logic that no one should be throwing waste or littering. But saying that we as consumers can solve the world’s plastic issue by changing our behaviors is far from the truth. As the film discloses, these are planned, deliberate narratives from a global industry that earn a lot of money keeping the status quo (‘after all, waste is good business’). The industry is adept in focusing on the lower stages of the plastic value chain – consumer behavior and recycling as solutions. And the longer they are able to maintain this focus, the more money they make – but this alone will never solve the plastic crisis.

Until now, the debate around plastic pollution has been dominated by the conversation about how consumers can change their habits. But ‘The Story of Plastic’ is about to change that. As you will learn from watching it, there is a vast gap in the debate about responsibility and real solutions to the plastic crisis. – Anne Aittomaki

Anne Aittomaki, Plastic Change
Trailer for ‘The Story of Plastic’

The Story of Plastic’ can seem like a punch in the gut, and leave you feeling overwhelmed and powerless. But it is also a story about hope, change and solidarity.

Anne Aittomaki, Plastic Change

We need systemic changes to handle the plastic crisis. It cannot be solved by you and I as citizens – nor by replacing disposable plastic with other disposable materials. It can only be achieved through ambitious political regulation of the industry at a global scale – placing the responsibility of packaging and costs of the packaging waste on the producer and not on local communities, municipalities and citizens.

It is unlikely that the industry will voluntarily change its current strategy of “designing for recycling”, as waste and single use packaging is good business. But as of today, only 9% of all plastic ever produced has been recycled – of which only 2% has been recycled efficiently. Globally we are producing far too much low-grade single use packaging that does not have value and thus will never be collected or recycled. The quality is too poor and systems and infrastructure for recycling is expensive and still cannot manage the waste. If recycling is such a good business as it is claimed by the industry, then why don’t we do it properly in the global North where we have some of the world’s most advanced recycling facilities – why do we export it to the global south? Because these products can’t be recycled into anything meaningful and the business model is too poor, so we ship it far away under the pretext of recycling.

This does not mean that recycling is not part of the solution in the future – it definitely is. But we will never succeed in stopping plastic pollution unless we focus on reducing plastic production and on designing high-quality toxic free reusable products with associated reuse systems that will reduce the increasing waste amounts. To establish these systems and products, we need politicians and industries to act. If plastic packaging is designed to be reusable it should by default design also be recyclable. This will achieve reduction in plastic production and in plastic waste. We will have cleaner products and clean recycling and less waste. But someone has to pay, and in that aspect it is only fair that those who earn on this broken system are the ones who pay – which is the multinational fast moving consumer goods corporations, the petrochemical and plastic industries.

‘The Story of Plastic’ can thus seem like a punch in the gut, and leave you feeling overwhelmed and powerless. But it is also a story about hope, change and solidarity.

Throughout the film, we meet different people who are each in their own way fighting a battle against plastic in different parts of the value chain, in different parts of the world. But they are not fighting alone. They are part of the global movement Break Free From Plastic, started in 2016, when 86 organizations from around the world met in the Philippines to develop a global strategy to addresses the entire plastic value chain. Today, Break Free From Plastic has grown to approximately 1,800 organizations around the world, who are working under one global strategy with the same goals. ‘The Story of Plastic’ is a result of the connections and global synergies that the movement has brought to life. Plastic Change has been part of the movement from the start and is now in the steering committee as one of 12 organizations. The documentary is only a first step in raising public awareness of the overall responsibility for plastic pollution, and creating public pressure on industries and politicians with demands of systematic change.

What does Plastic Change do

In addition to being part of Break Free From Plastic, Plastic Change works for a global UN-level treaty on plastic and is involved in UNEA negotiations. We are working towards an EU ban on shipping of plastic waste from EU countries in 2025. In addition, we are doing political lobbying for reduction targets, requirements of reuse as well as producer responsibility. This is to ensure a real transition from single-use and linear business models to multi-use (reuse) and new circular business models that are zero-waste. Our mission is a zero-waste society.