“We have to look to the future. Either that or we say there is no future. I don’t see that as an option.”
Neil Blake. Baykeeper. Port Phillip Ecocentre.
My 10 year old, Zoe, worries. She worries about climate change. She worries about the environment. She feels helpless. She wants to pick up every piece of rubbish she sees (which can make for very slow car trips). She wants to care for every injured animal. To rehabilitate every patch of trashed bushland. To clean every waterway. I know exactly how she feels.
Earlier this year Zoe got the opportunity to be part of a documentary about plastics in Port Phillip Bay. Called Baykeepers, the film is about the impact of plastics in our waterways, and the people working to stop it.
Every piece of plastic that gets dropped in Melbourne, whether it’s in the street, the playground, your backyard, or your school, is likely to end up in Port Phillip Bay. And plastics are forever.
This is the tragic irony of this Plastic Age we live in. We create plastics to throw away after mere minutes of use – think soft drink bottles, coffee cups, or the wrapping on your sandwich – and then they last forever in the environment. Oh, sure, they break down, but only into smaller pieces of plastic. They never actually go away.
Do you know what happens to those tiny bits of plastic? They get washed into the sea where they collect toxins. Then, being the size of fish eggs, algae and other tasty things, they get eaten by fish and other sea creatures. The plastics and the toxins get concentrated up the food chain, and end up in your plate of fish and chips, or your smoked salmon pizza.
And now we are introducing micro-spheres of plastic into the environment in, of all things, makeup. Exfoliating scrubs are made of tiny beads of plastic, intended to be washed down the drain. We are making plastic specifically intended to wind up in our waterways.
It’s enough to make you despair, just like Zoe. Fortunately tonight we saw the premiere of Baykeepers. It was the first time we had seen the whole thing put together, and understood the story that the film’s director and producer, Michael J. Lutman, was planning to tell. Baykeepers isn’t just a story about plastic. It’s the tale of people who care about our impact on the earth. It’s a story of enlightenment. Of people beginning to recognize our place in the environment, and our responsibility for it.
It’s a tale worth telling, retelling, and telling over again. It’s about waking up to what we’re doing. It’s about telling your friends, your neighbours, and your colleagues. It’s about taking that lightning flash of understanding – of that devastating image of waterways choked with rubbish – and sharing it with anyone who will listen.
Zoe was very lucky to be a part of this powerful and compelling film, but we all have a role to play in the story of the earth. We all have people around us who don’t quite get it. Who haven’t yet realised what it actually means to drop an empty soft drink bottle, or let go of a helium balloon on a plastic ribbon. Who bring their lunches to work in plastic wrap instead of reusable containers. Who casually toss their chip packets aside.
It’s not enough to change our own behaviour. We have to be the catalysts for changing the behaviour of others.
We have to look to the future. To make sure there is one.