On Tuesday, March 26, the Global Water Program and Take Back the Tap sponsored a screening of Into the Gyre, an award-winning documentary about the effects of plastic pollution on the world’s marine ecosystems.
“Into the Gyre was chosen as a film to be shown since it introduced the idea of plastic pollution in our oceans as another novel impact our plastic consumption has caused,” Mengli Shi, co-organizer of the event, wrote in an email to The News-Letter.
This event was held in celebration of World Water Day, which falls annually on March 22.
In 1993, the United Nations Generally Assembly took the advice of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) and designated March 22, 1993 as the first World Water Day.
This day is recognized internationally in order to raise awareness of the importance of freshwater and draw attention to the current threats on the conservation of water resources.
Students for Environmental Action (SEA), and specifically the screening of Into the Gyre has brought such issues to the attention of the Hopkins community.
SEA is an activist group on campus of which Take Back the Tap is a part. “Take Back the Tap is a student led initiative aiming to reduce bottled water consumption on campus and promote the use of clean and free tap water,” Shi wrote.
The Global Water Program is similarly focused on campus water projects and raising awareness about water as a vital resource.
“The JHU Global Water Program is a University-wide initiative working to solve the global water challenge through research, education, and inter-departmental collaboration ... I also thought JHU students would appreciate the detail it gave to the research process, from applying for a research grant to collecting data to communicating results to the public,” Dano Wilusz, a member of JHU’s Global Water Program who helped organize the event, wrote in an email to The News-Letter.
Released in July 2012, Into the Gyre has since won a number of film festivals.
“We contacted the film director Scott Elliott, and he was really enthusiastic about our event and happy to see us sharing his message,” Wilusz wrote.
The film, which tracks a band of scientists who venture to the remote Saragasso Sea in search of plastic pollution, touches upon the history of plastics, their effect on the oceanic ecosystem, and potential panaceas to remedy this issue.
“I thought it was a unique take on water pollution awareness as people normally think chemicals in lakes and rivers ... It also connects to water bottle consumption in that it reveals the impacts plastic waste has on ocean dynamics. It takes us away from our backyard and our normal lives and into the center of the Atlantic on discovery adventure,” Shi wrote.
According to Wilusz, water pollution is an issue of a greater magnitude than typically believed. “In the most polluted parts of the Atlantic that the researchers surveyed, they estimated over 1000 lbs of plastic floating on the surface of the ocean per square kilometer!” Wilusz wrote.
The majority of attendants had positive reactions to the film, and believe they took away the documentary’s intended message.
“The documentary was definitely trying to promote the reduction of (one-time) plastic use, and maybe even the development of a biodegradable plastic that wouldn't float in the seas as long,” Nikita Singh, a member of SEA, wrote in an email to The News-Letter.
The film made it clear that in terms of resolutions, plastic pollution is at a crossroads.
“The documentary was trying to show how detrimental plastic is to the environment and how tiny steps we take in our daily lives can really make a difference ... For years, manufacturers of plastic have been researching ways to make plastic more sturdy when actually making it more biodegradable would be very helpful to the environment,” Cathy Gong, who attended the Students for Environmental Action event, wrote in an email to The News-Letter.
Thus, there are two competing forces in plastic manufacturing.
Still, attendees believe that such events raise awareness, change student perspectives, and help make a difference.
“I think the event was a success ... I learned a lot and it made me very aware of how much plastic we use everyday. Everyone in the room took a pledge to try to use less plastic and I think that after the movie, everyone will actually try,” Gong wrote.
However, despite the documentary’s affective message, many of the people in attendance were people already interested in the subject. Therefore, the group would like increase its influence by attracting people who don’t know as much about these pollution problems.
“I thought the documentary did a great job of conveying the harmful effects of plastic without being too radical and zealous (such as suggesting the complete abandonment of plastic)...But the documentary certainly only drew a crowd that was already inspired by the issue, so might not have succeeded in spreading the information to a more disinterested crowd,” Singh wrote.
Members of SEA and the Global Water Program, especially Shi and Dano, hope that feelings evoked as a result of the documentary will spur student interest and, ideally, action.
“I hope after hearing about the Global Water Program and Take Back the Tap, Hopkins students will be more active and join in on our mission whether that is reducing single use plastic such as bottled water or getting involved in our student groups,” Shi wrote in an email.
Some scenes will leave students with lasting images of the deleterious effects of plastic pollution.
“One scene shows the researchers dissecting a fish from the ocean and finding dozens of tiny pieces of plastic in its stomach. I still think of those fish guts every time I reach for a water bottle!” Wilusz wrote.