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Episode 18 Transcript: Imaging Oceans with no Plastic

The complete transcript for episode 18.

Episode 18 Transcript: Imaging Oceans with no Plastic

Molly Wood Voice Over:

Welcome to Everybody in the Pool, the podcast for the climate economy. We dive deep into the climate crisis and come up with solutions. I’m your host, Molly Wood.

Now … we’ve covered plastic in various ways on this show … and we’ll continue to … because it’s a massive pollutant … to land … oceans … animals … our endocrine systems … and it’s almost completely derived from fossil fuels to boot …

And this is a pretty new problem … according to the nonprofit Our World in Data … the world produced 2 million tons of plastic in 1950 …

but by 2019 … we were producing 460 *million … tons … of plastic every year …

Of all the plastic produced between 1950 and 2015 … 30 percent was still in use … because plastic *can last a long time … but fully 55 percent … was discarded … and went straight to landfill.

It’s just habit now … and habits … are hard to change … but not impossible …

So today I’m talking with two people … who are trying to help imagine … and help us all *see … a world without plastic.

First … someone who’s been working in this space for a very long time …

Deanna Cohen: I am Deanna Cohen. I am co-founder and CEO of Plastic Pollution Coalition. Plastic Pollution Coalition is a communications and advocacy organization working towards a more just equitable, regenerative world, free of plastic pollution and its toxic impacts.

Molly Wood Voice Over:

And how she arrived at this job … might surprise you …

Deanna Cohen: I'm a visual artist and I've now at this point been making artwork out of plastic bags that I cut up and sew back together for 31 years.

Molly Wood Voice Over: 

Yep. She got started when she was on a trip … and did a little art improvisation.

Deanna Cohen:

 I was traveling. I felt like making artwork. I found literally a shoe shine bag hanging in a motel closet, cut it up, combined it with another bag that I had that was like a Pepto Bimal pink color and, uh, made a piece that was called Shine and showed it in an exhibit and had this kind of epiphany of, because I had been working with plastic bags in a collage form and adding stitching to it. Then began adding plastic to that and then started working with the plastic and thought, this is a really fascinating material, not with any awareness really of what it was made out of, where it came from, the damage it was doing. I had no idea. So I worked kind of blissfully for about eight years with plastic bags and they became my primary material that I was using for these two and three 

dimensional pieces and sculptural pieces I was making. Um, and after about eight years, a few of the bags and a few of my pieces started to fissure and break apart. And then I got excited and thought it meant that the plastic bags were organic and ephemeral like us, and breaking down and going back to the earth. So I, I attempted to educate myself about it and that's when I started to learn about what plastic is made out of.

And plastic bags. And 99% of plastics are made out of petrochemicals and fossil fuels, which I didn't know. So plastic is basically made from oil and, um, that was really fascinating. And then around the same time I'd been working making this artwork, I became a certified scuba diver. Then about five years later, I started attempting to longboard, but you know, surfing and I was just spending more and more time in the water. And I kept finding plastic floating everywhere. So I was tying it to my bathing suit, tucking it in my bikini top, like shoving it in my wetsuit and bringing it out and then looking for a, a garbage can basically. And I wasn't thinking, do we recycle this stuff? What happens to, it wasn't thinking about it at all.

So I really came to the issue not as an activist, I feel more like an accidental activist in that the more I was seeing particularly of this material in the ocean and in the sea, I had a growing kind of concern about it …

Molly Wood Voice Over: 

Around 2007, she says she met Captain Charles Moore … the marine conservationist who coined the term … and tried to tell the world about … the Great Pacific Garbage Patch … and has a book called Plastic Oceans …

And while her first thought was to try to get funding for cleanup efforts …

Deanna Cohen: 

I came to realize that I, you can't clean it up, and that I was really approaching it in the wrong way. That instead of looking at it as this is just something that we should be cleaning up, we need to back up and look at the bigger picture. And the bigger picture is a systemic issue, which is, you know, where are all the source points that the stuff is getting in? To not just the ocean but our environment in general. And so that's what really led to creating with other co-founders, plastic Pollution Coalition.

Molly Wood Voice Over: 

That was in 2009 … its advisors included the environmentalist Bill McKibben and if you don’t get his substack newsletter you really must … and the legendary marine biologist Sylvia Earle … and they produced a one-day TEDx conference called TEDx Great Pacific Garbage Patch … in 2010 …

Yeah, right? Deanna just … DID IT.

And now … the coalition has 1400 members … including nonprofit organizations but it’s about 50 percent businesses … from 75 different countries … and in the last five years … she says … there’s been a huge uptick in businesses … in particular … joining the fight.

Deanna Cohen: So you can really see this, um, upswing in in people realizing that not only is this a problem or an issue, but businesses wanting to come from and take this on, come from the solution perspective. Look at how to measurably reduce their plastic footprint within their, their work, their delivery systems for their products, what they're manufacturing, what they're making. And a lot of our business coalition members are also offering alternative materials or infrastructure delivery systems. So a lot of coalition members working with glass, um, food grade, stainless steel, copper, wood, ceramics, um, mushrooms, mushroom mycelium, seaweed, algae. You know, it is, it would be kind of incredible.

Molly Wood Voice Over: 

And to be clear this isn’t just about pollution anymore … it’s about the continuing extraction of fossil fuels … their use in making plastic … and the chemicals that process creates … that are kind of … killing us. let’s just … put a fine point on that for a minute here …

Deanna Cohen: And again, your average person walking down the street has no idea, as I had no idea in the beginning. That plastic, 99% of plastics are made from fossil fuels.

And then the additives that we use, which are also a lot of these chemicals are also products of processing fossil fuels. Um, but these products like bisphenol A or if it's BPA, free bisphenol substitutes, B P B, B P S, B P Z, and phthalates, the two classes of chemicals, and then also forever chemicals, P F A Ss and P O chemicals. These chemicals, which are used to make plastics or used to plasticize the carbon source, even if it's a plant-based carbon source, they've been identified as endocrine disruptors, so they we absorb those chemicals in our body. Some of them it looks like bisphenols and things we can actually release from our body or pee out. Um, but we are exposed to these chemicals on a daily basis, every day, every piece of food that we eat. If we eat out, you don't know how things are packaged, you know, in the kitchen or a restaurant, but anything that we purchase that's packaged in plastic food, beverages, beauty products, cleaning products, uh, healthcare products. potentially those plastics or the chemicals used to make those plastics are leaching micro amounts into our food and beverages. And into what we're ingesting or putting on our skin, or putting on our baby's skin and those chemicals, BPA having been studied the most, but those chemicals, bisphenols and phthalates and PFAS chemicals have been linked to a whole slew of health issues. Again, BPAs been studied the most, but it's been linked to, um, in babies, uh, in utero. It's been linked to shorten, anogenital distance, smaller penis size. Feminization of boys, early menses in girls. So girls getting their period younger and younger and younger. Uh, feminization of boys, boys getting breasts, breast buds and breasts. Um, attention deficit disorder and lower IQ.

And that's just babies exposed to one of those chemicals in utero.

Uh, in adult studies. Uh, bisphenols have been linked to diabetes and obesity, both of which we're having epidemics of in the United States and happily exporting to other countries around the world. Um, fertility issues including lower sexual functions, sterility and infertility and cancers, breast cancer, brain cancer, prostate cancer. So it looks like in human beings and in animals, um, particularly mammals like us that our gonads and these organs in our body actually collect and hold these different kind of polluting chemicals and, and it affects us. So, um, uh, to me, like any one of these things would be highly alarming, right? Average person has no idea.

Molly Wood Voice Over: 

So the Plastic Pollution Coalition has a lot of initiatives … that all fall into the bucket of cool solutions …

there’s an online scorecard designed for venue operators to compare the environmental impact of various containers and utensils and packaging choices … and find alternatives …

There’s a huge lobbying effort called Filtered not Bottled … that is pushing for federal and local funding to update water infrastructure with better filtering and copper … not P-V-C pipes … to make tapwater safe to drink in communities across the US.

Lots of programs for schools … events … tips for advocating in your community …

And this one I love … called Flip the Script on Plastics …

To start … they commissioned a report from the Normal Lear Media Center … looking at plastic portrayal on scripted television …

Deanna Cohen: 

When the report came out, what they found was that on average, every episode that they looked at, um, they looked at two episodes of each series that they were, uh, reviewing that every episode had on average 28 pieces of single use plastic per episode. And every single episode had at least what they called one mass plastic event, which meant. A sequence in a market or a supermarket, uh, a hospital, um, a party, something where there was so much single use plastic that it was impossible to count it in the sequence.

And so we created a baseline with the Norman Lear Media Center, and then we took it to the other part of the media Center, which is called Hollywood Health and Society. And, uh, we let them know that we wanted to create this, flip the script on plastics. To really share this idea around Reusables on screen and to figure out the best way to help educate content creators and writers and showrunners. And again, working with talent to get real stories about plastic pollution into the storyline. So, I mean, flip the script on plastics is, it's basically, it's an initiative to help the entertainment industry model real solutions. To the plastic pollution crisis, both on set and in the storylines.

Molly Wood Voice Over: 

And I was like oh yeah … I heard about a movie that did something like that and I can’t remember what it was! But Deanna knew, obviously …

Deanna Cohen: 

I can tell you what the film was. It was called Marry Me and it was, um, Jennifer Lopez and Owen Wilson. And it was that the director made a commitment and there was no comment about it, but when Jennifer Lopez is drinking water, she's, she's playing a rock star, you know, a performer. I mean, she's playing herself kind of in a way, but as a character. And, um, she's working out and you see her go grab a kind of swell shaped bottle that's a little bit blinged out or whatever, and she's drinking out of that. And then you see Owen Wilson's character making lunch for his tween daughter, and he's making it all in reusable steel little containers and with a thermos and everything for her.

So he's making her a plastic free lunch. So it's, there's no comment on it in the film, it's just the visuals that are shown.

Molly Wood Voice Over: 

In April … the Motion Picture Association and SAG-AFTRA announced the Hollywood Green Council … a mission to try to eliminate single-use plastics on and OFF screen …

Deanna and the actor Ed Begley Junior created something called The Begley-Cohen test … so you can evaluate a show or movie’s portrayal of single-use plastics … either because it doesn’t HAVE any … or because if it DOES … they’re portrayed or discussed as problematic.

And they highlight movies that have done this well … lots of them are period pieces … but some standouts include the Banshees of Insherin from 2023 … where even the COSTUMES … are hand-made wool sweaters … free of micro-plastics.

And I know we’re a little ways into September … but the coalition is running a film competition for this month only … called Plastic Kills … where you can make a one to three-minute scripted horror movie about plastic pollution. The winner gets two thousand dollars. That’s at plasticpollutioncoalition dot org …

Ok time for a quick break and when we come back … I’ll talk to an independent filmmaker about this exact thing … thinking about and portraying plastic … in entertainment.

Molly Wood Voice Over: 

Welcome back to Everybody in the Pool where we’re talking about how to break our addiction to plastics … and how that can start … with what we see on T-V and movies … and how those productions … operate behind the scenes.

My next guest … makes movies.

Nada Georgievich: 

My name is Nada, um, like in Spanish, Nada, at Georgievich, and I am a social impact consultant and a storyteller and by that I mean I'm a writer and a filmmaker.

Molly Wood Voice Over: 

When I met Nada … because we used to be neighbors back in around 2013 … she was advising high-needs schools and school districts … about how to improve educational outcomes … and opportunities … she studied education at Harvard … and she was writing on the side …

and she wrote a feature film … that I got to be part of … as a table read during the pandemic …

Nada Georgievich: 

So the theme of that, um, film and it is a dramedy, um, uh, dramatic comedy is sustainability. And it's about sustainability of romantic relationships, sustainability of families, sustainability of, uh, our, you know, economic infrastructure, particularly about farming and rural, uh, northern California.

Molly Wood Voice Over: 

This *came … from doing social impact work … and interviewing some 400 people throughout rural California … and then translating that … into a story.

Nada Georgievich: So I had, had the chance to talk with like some 400 people and got to see a lot of different perspectives and that really informed how I made this film.

But it was all very, you know, it's a relationship based film. And, um, and it was. It's about people who have different, you know, disparate views, disparate perspectives, but are struggling and coming together to, to find, you know, um, um, find themselves and, and develop relationships, um, and improving their relationships with themselves and each other and the world that they're in.

Molly Wood Voice Over: 

Like Deanna Cohen … Nada says her lens on this storytelling comes from growing up in northern California and seeing it go from greenhouses and horses in Silicon Valley … to freeways and office parks …

Nada Georgievich: 

When you grow up. I mean, you know, too, because you didn't grow up in the city, but when you grow up next to things, you, you develop a love for them and then they're, you know, and then how do you deal with the fact that they're gone? Um, and, and I was thinking about this in terms of, you know, the stories that we see, right?

We, we don't always have a vocabulary for, uh, for climate, you know, climate change that's happening and we don't, um, if films, you know, they say they study, they say 97 percent of, uh, films that were made between 2015 and 2020 don't mention climate change and. This is, um, from a USC Norman Lear study, and so if you have, you know, fewer than three or three percent are talking about that, how do we, how do we communicate messages that, that this is not, this is not normal.

We get embedded, um, into like, Oh, I need to put this in my film versus this is the way the world is. Um, and I think that that that's a difficult, uh, it's difficult to. Create a story. If somebody says, Oh, you make sure you put in a rabbit, you know, or make sure that, that this, you know, it's sort of like a game like, Oh, I need to put this in.

But if you look at the world and you go, wow, I cannot go outside the next three days because there were wildfires in Canada. Um, and so my, then that should be part of your plot.

Molly Wood Voice Over: 

So … as obvious as that seems … that if climate change is the backdrop of our daily lives … and films are increasingly anachronistic if they *don’t have it … Nada says at least one nonprofit told her they couldn’t fund the feature film about farming in rural California … if it mentioned … climate change.

Nada Georgievich: 

And if you look up climate oriented films, you know, you'll find that there was five, five or six films in the last few years that are mentioned.

You know, Don't Look Up, obviously, Interstellar, there's very, very few. And none of which are really placed in today's world. And so what is the reason behind that? Um, well, one is because, you know, people are very risk averse in this industry. No one wants to be a person that said yes to the thing that failed.

Like Waterworld was, you know, something that failed big time. So, and that's something you probably know much more about in terms of, you know, investments and, but this is an industry that wants to say yes to something that they know was a proven commodity or, you know, it's IP that, that people know about. That said, don't look up as kind of change, as a paradigm changer, you know. It really said this could, you could make a film about something incredibly depressing and it could be funny and people will watch it. Now, it's not the only one you can make, but it, I think it's going to have a ripple effect because it did, you know, it was nominated for Oscars and it made a lot of money and, um, it was seen a lot.

Molly Wood Voice Over: 

So far … says Nada …

Nada Georgievich: Where there's a lot of movement is subtle changes. And, um, the, oh, let's put a bicycle in this film. Let's, um, let's try to change things. Um, change the discussion. We won't mention the word climate change, but we'll hint at it, kind of thing.

Molly Wood: 

Like there might be a bad storm happening outside or there would some sort of reference happening?

Nada Georgievich: 

The hottest summer ever, kind of reference, right?

Molly Wood: 

Drive an electric car. There was a big kind of electric car placement.

Nada Georgievich: 

Right. And I think, and I think that's great. I think it's wonderful. I mean, that's what we were talking about, sort of the, the Pinot Noir effect, right? Having people, uh, notice something that's in a film and then want to apply it to their own life.

Molly Wood: 

Explain the Pinot Noric effect for people.

Nada Georgievich: 

Yes. Um, so that is, uh, from. The, the film Sideways, which is a buddy film that takes place, um, in the central coast and the, um, uh, there's a big discussion about Pinot Noirs and Merlots and, um, the protagonist discusses the merits of Pinot Noirs and how, what a unique grape it is and how, and it's a, it's, you know, it is just this beautiful monologue in front of Virginia Madsen and when after the film came out the sales of Pinot Noir went way up and Merlot went down and the, uh, and that's happened now for almost a decade.

They said that finally the Pinot Noir effect is dying down. The film isn't, you know, just when we talk about is it a climate film, is it a film about Pinot Noir? No. Is it? It's a, it's a buddy film. It's a, you know, it's a slight, you know, it's a romantic comedy, a buddy journey about two guys and, but with this, the best scene in the film and, you know, this incredible monologue that changed how people see this wine.

Molly Wood Voice Over: 

And finally … as much as we need to see … I guess like … super sustainable pinot noir in movies … there’s also the behind the scenes and that is MAJOR …

For example … a 60-day film shoot … can use almost 40 thousand single-use water bottles … according to a 2019 industry report … the process of making ANY film or commercial or T-V show … can be wildly wasteful …

Nada Georgievich: 

My neighbor is a set designer and, uh, about a week ago he came back with all of these bananas because he said we were, you know, filming a commercial and we couldn't get the right banana, so they had overpurchased all these bananas, and so he gave it to me, he gave it to my other neighbor, and you know, we're making banana bread all week, and, but that's, that's a, you know, and I, that's just one, you know, one example, but the Uh, the amount of paper, so somebody, you get a script and then you get multiple copies.

Like there's one page that changes and some people want to see the entire full, you know, script again and again. And you know, I'm going to be honest, like I was guilty when I filmed, um, my, um, film in November. I gave. I gave it. Everybody caught a paper copy of the script that was on set and a lot of people were just reading it on their phone. And again, this is also that shift in culture that younger people are used to reading on the phone. They don't need a paper copy. And so that and that was, you know, an eye opener for me. Then there's also like it's massive, you know, massive building that goes on sets, um, particularly commercials are bad. They'll, you know, create things that then they can't reuse. And so thinking about, you know, the, uh, at the, uh, the Hollywood climate summit I went to, they really thought they talked about the idea that it's not, you know, a script. Um, is one thing that you can, you know, embed issues of, um, sustainability and climate awareness, but then you have to think all the elements through post production.

Um, and from. You know, how many pages of the script that you copy from, uh, craft services, what do you do if people, uh, don't eat with, what are you doing with your leftovers? What are you doing with anything that's built for your production? How do you get people to? Uh, think differently, bring their own cup, keep that cup, you know, for all, uh, the entire, um, production, which might be, you know, a month.

Um, and so it's, it, I think it takes, you know, it's going to take a lot of shifts in culture that we haven't yet made in part because we haven't yet seen it.

Molly Wood Voice Over: 

But again I want to highlight … that it is happening … like so many things in this fight … slowly yes … we need more yes … but surely …

Here’s a fun fact … in the filming of my second favorite movie after the original … Top Gun Maverick … the producers brought in filtered water and people used refillable bottles on set … diverting some 30 thousand plastic bottles from the waste stream … and not for nothing … SAVING thousands of dollars … in production costs.

That’s it for this episode of Everybody in the Pool … thank you so much for listening …

Please email me your thoughts and suggestions … and hey … we have a website now! Email me at in AT everybody in the pool dot com AND … find all the latest episodes and more at everybody in the pool dot com!

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