Over 9 billion metric tons of plastic have been produced since 1950. Where has it all gone? In the illuminating documentary The Plastic Problem, the PBS NewsHour explores the scourge of plastic remnants in our oceans and lakes, their points of origin, and their ultimate impact to the health of both sea life and humans.
The excess of plastics represents one of the most troubling environmental threats facing our planet. It is estimated that by the year 2050, the plastics found in our waters could outnumber fish. The filmmakers travel to Lake Ontario - the largest freshwater system in the world - and uncover evidence that every fish sampled has ingested plastic. In turn, this creates a potential health scare for humans who feed on these same fish.
The prospects of comprehensive clean-ups are daunting. Plastics deteriorate very slowly under the harsh natural elements. In addition to the larger, unbroken pieces, a seemingly infinite amount of microplastics can also be found washed up on most shores.
Our addiction to plastics is understandable. They have revolutionized everything from consumer goods to medical care. Their convenience and durability have transformed us into a disposable society.
In the earlier days of plastic dominance, its reuse was a priority in order to reduce the threat of widespread pollution. But the global recycling rate has reduced to just 9% in recent years. The production of fresh plastic waste continues to rise with no signs of dissipation. The film explores how the current system of recycling has not adequately impacted the crisis. Meanwhile, incineration could fill the environment with dangerous chemical pollution.
The film also profiles the people and industries who are doing their part to curb this unnecessary waste, including representatives from soft drink and asphalt companies. We're introduced to an ordinary family who are making a conscious effort to limit their plastic footprint. In one of the film's segments, a scientist discusses her plans to manipulate a strand of bacteria which can consume and destroy the plastics in record time.
Utilizing the expertise of various ecologists and conservationists, The Plastic Problem admirably diagnoses the worldwide crisis of plastic consumption and points the way to possible solutions.