Intersections of Art and Science

Microplastics Are a Big Problem, a New Film Warns – New York Times

A sampling of microplastics collected from a freshwater stream by Florida Sea Grant agent Maia McGuire on July 21st, 2017 (Courtesy of Florida Sea Grant, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED via FLickr).
A sampling of microplastics collected from a freshwater stream by Florida Sea Grant agent Maia McGuire on July 21st, 2017 (Courtesy of Florida Sea Grant, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED via Flickr).

At SXSW, a documentary traces the arc of plastics in our lives, and highlights evolving research of the potential harm of its presence in our bodies.

It’s been more than five decades since Dustin Hoffman’s character in “The Graduate” was offered a kernel of wisdom about the path to prosperity.

“Plastics,” he’s told by Mr. McGuire, the starched corporate executive who offers the advice. “There’s a great future in plastics.”

Plastics have indeed been a game changer for humanity, and the enormous range of cheap, durable plastic goods, from food containers and PVC pipes to polyester clothing and single-use medical products, have inarguably improved life.

The problem, as nearly everyone knows, is that plastics are forever and very little of it has been recycled. The U.N. has estimated that most of the 400 million metric tons churned out annually — a doubling of production since 2000 — will remain on Earth in some form as they are broken down into teeny specks by sunlight, wind and the sea…

“We know microplastics are everywhere, we know they are harmful to marine life and to our fisheries, but the research side of how they impact humans is still catching up,” said Imari Walker-Franklin, an environmental engineer and chemistry researcher at RTI International who studies microplastics.

“Plastic People,” a new documentary directed by Ben Addelman and Ziya Tong, surveys the emerging science on microplastics and arrives at a troubling conclusion: The potential health risks associated with plastic pollution are becoming hard to ignore.

The film, which debuts Saturday at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas, follows the work of microplastic researchers in a half-dozen countries, including a pair of Turkish scientists who said they recently discovered microplastics inside the human brain. Some of the particles were found deep inside the tissue of cancerous brain tumors…

Plastic People (03-09-2024)

Plastic People | Official Trailer | Documentary

Plastic People is a landmark feature documentary that chronicles humanity’s fraught relationship with plastic and one woman’s mission to expose shocking new revelations about the impact of microplastics on human health.

See Also:

Owen Gleiberman – Variety (03-13-2024):

'Plastic People’ Review: An Essential Documentary About How Plastic Is Literally Invading Us All

We’ve long known that plastic is bad for the environment. Ben Addelman and Ziya Tong’s movie documents what it’s doing to our bodies.

Plastic People” is one of those essential state-of-our-world documentaries. If and when it gets a release (it premiered this week at SXSW), I urge you to see it, to ponder its message, to consider what it’s saying about how microplastics — plastic particles that are less than 5mm in length, though the key ones may be microscopic — have invaded our food, our water, our air, and, quite specifically, our bodies.

For decades, it’s been a trope of environmental filmmaking to showcase the ugliness of landfills, and to ask where all the plastic we throw out is ultimately going to go. “Plastic People” has some of that. Yet its portrait of what plastic is doing to us is even more distressingly advanced. Yes, plastic is hell on the environment (no small thing), but the thrust of the film’s message is that it’s also toxifying us from within…Plastic disrupts our hormones, and in one queasy section the film shows us a placenta with plastic particles in it. In its way, “Plastic People” is a horror movie. It could have been called “Attack of the Killer Polymers..”


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