V i v i a n  S o n g
Freelance writer
Freelance writer
A sea of plastic

Toronto Sun, Sun Media papers, December, 2008.

Ian Connacher has climbed to the summit of humanity's refuse. The way was lined with rotting body parts, dead animals and hypodermic needles all amid a mountain of plastic in India's poorest parts.

It was enough to break a man.

"There were moments in India when I thought I was going to die," said the internationally-acclaimed filmmaker in an interview from Amsterdam. "Later that night in the shower, I wept for what I saw."

Connacher is the lens behind Addicted to Plastic, a three-year endeavour that took the Toronto native to 12 countries and the middle of the Pacific Ocean, where plastic goes on to live on in perpetuity.

The UN Environment Programme estimates that every square mile of ocean contains 46,000 pieces of floating plastic, killing marine animals which mistake the particles for food or die from entanglement.

In the Central Pacific, there are up to six pounds (2.7 kg) of marine litter to every pound of plankton. Bioaccumulation means the animal at the top of the food chain is hit the hardest from the ingestion of plastic -- and that includes humans.

"The ocean is not a floating island. You can't just sweep it up. It's spread out in an enormous area like a sea of confetti. We have to stop putting things in it and use plastic responsibly."

His convictions against the ubiquitous, wanton use of plastic in the world led him to quit a lucrative job as a producer with the Discovery Channel. He relied on the generosity of friends who wrote music for the film for free and hustled for corporate financing.

Though the risk was big, the rewards are bigger. Connacher has been on a whirlwind global tour showing his documentary at various film festivals, winning prizes in Paris and Brazil.

What was supposed to solve man's unsustainable consumption and the depletion of natural resources, has become another problem in itself -- a problem we can't sweep under the proverbial carpet, because we've created a material that's virtually indestructible.

And what the ocean doesn't accept, is vomited onto our shores in the form of dead marine life and ugly marine litter.

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PACIFIC TRASH VORTEX

Below are some factoids on plastic in our oceans.

- Around 100 million tonnes of plastic are produced each year of which about 10% ends up in the sea. About 20% of this is from ships and platforms, the rest from land.

- At least 267 different species are known to have suffered from entanglement or ingestion of marine debris including seabirds, turtles, seals, sea lions, whales and fish.

- The North Pacific sub-tropical gyre (see map) covers a large area of the Pacific in which the water circulates clockwise in a slow spiral. Winds are light. The currents tend to force any floating material into the low energy central area of the gyre. There are few islands on which the floating material can beach.

- So the garbage stays in the gyre, in astounding quantities estimated at 13.2 pounds (six kg) of plastic for every kilo of naturally occurring plankton. An area the size of Texas is swirling slowly around like a clock. This gyre has also been dubbed the "Asian Trash Trail" the "Trash Vortex" or the "Eastern Garbage Patch".

- Greenpeace.org, UNEP

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