The Science of Sustainability

Producer's Notes: The Plastic Breakdown

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Life was easier back before I produced this piece. Now everywhere I look and everything I touch seems to be made of plastic.

I don’t know why I didn’t think about plastic before I produced this story about plastic from around the world that’s gathering and collecting in the Pacific Ocean. But now, everywhere I look and everything I touch seems to be made of plastic: this keyboard, pen, desk, the monitor in front of me, my water bottle, the phone to the left of me, the stacks of video tapes in plastic containers to the right, even the plastic office chair holding me up. But I’m not just struck by the fact that everything’s made of petroleum products. I’m stunned by the fact that I knew all the time that I was surrounded by plastic, but I’d found ways to ignore it, accept it and live with it.

Life was easier back before I did this piece. I didn’t think of albatross stomachs when I saw cigarette lighters for sale. I didn’t have to worry what to do with the plastic lid on the recycled paper cup after I drank my fair trade organic coffee. I didn’t get strange looks from the corner sandwich shop lady until I recently removed a lunch from the plastic bag she provided. I had to explain to her why I didn’t want the plastic bag she so carefully and skillfully packed with my chicken salad sandwich, cheddar cheese chips and juice (in an actual glass bottle).

I told her how plastic doesn’t go away for centuries, how it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, even nano-sized particles. I went on about how it could get into the food chain. She didn’t have an answer when I asked her if she knew what we’re doing to the ocean and the planet and our children. Plastic was the enemy and it was everywhere!

I knew I was getting carried away. But then I started thinking maybe I should get carried away. Maybe we all should get carried away, you know, talk about it, get informed about it, get angry about it, write our senators and members of Congress. But being a TV producer who’s always faced with making difficult cuts in the edit room, I knew when less was more. So I chilled out, gave her what I owed for the food and time and left a hefty tip, and started to leave. Her smile made me pause. She thanked me for telling her all about plastic. She said she’d speak to the owner about replacing the plastic bags.

Watch the Plastic in the Pacific television story online.

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Category: Environment

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Jon Fromer

About the Author ()

Jon Fromer has been producing compelling television since 1970. He started out at KRON-TV when it was the Bay Area NBC affiliate and worked there for 23 years. He’s been with KQED for the past 16 years. Jon’s work has a human touch that has earned him high ratings from viewers as well from his peers in the broadcast industry. He’s received honors for a wide range of work, from documentaries and news programs to youth series and cultural specials. A partial list of awards for Jon’s work includes a dozen Northern California EMMYs and one national EMMY as well as two Iris Awards from the National Assoc. of Television Program Executives and two Broadcast Industry Awards. His long running, hip hop based/issue oriented series for teenagers, “Home Turf,” was a 4-time winner at the American Children’s Television Festival. Jon is also an award-winning singer/songwriter and guitarist.
  • http://www.planitgreenprinting.com rob tossberg

    Bravo! Get the word out about plastic!!! Stop printing on plastic stickers and print on plant based sticker stock that will break down and not wreak havoc on our planet!!!

  • Alison

    Great story!! I recently learned about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and have been doing lots of research since. Your story explains the issue clearly and concisely with amazing visuals. Thank you! I have posted it on my Facebook page to support what I have been posting about for weeks. And yes, once you become aware…plastic is EVERYWHERE!

  • http://www.freeculturearts.com Jenny

    I had a similar experience. I was eco-minded but didn't flinch while getting my daily to-go salads and juices in plastic containers. Once I discovered what was going on I began to see plastic everywhere, it's the fiber of our modern society. I created a short film about my boyfriend who I watched save all his plastic for 30 days just to see how much he really used. Please check it out and let me know what you think! http://vimeo.com/10424604

  • Debbie2008

    The California Academy of Science in San Francisco is unveiling a plastics exhibit in June 2010.

    Also, check this out: pluckfastic.org

  • Chris Bauer

    STORY UPDATE: Beached sea turtle had ingested 317 plastic pieces

    Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2011/06/30/international/i092444D36.DTL#ixzz1QmPgdMQe