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How Whales Become Hazardous Waste

The main theme of a new documentary, Trashed: No Place for Waste , directed by Candida Brady 2013, and narrated by British actor Jeremy Irons, is the major health danger posed by the 7 billion tons of garbage we discard every year. The film focuses primarily on dioxins, PCBs, phthalates, bisphenyl A, and other endocrine disruptors – particularly the role they play in a growing epidemic of cancer, autoimmune disease, infertility, and neuro-degenerative disease. Thanks to a 2005 Center for Disease Control study, there’s growing international awareness that all human beings carry an average of 148 of these toxic chemicals circulating in their blood stream. However prior to seeing Trashed, I was unaware that landfills and waste incinerators were a primary source of these chemicals.

How Whales Become Hazardous Waste

Irons focuses heavily on incinerators, which pose immense problems for the entire global population. The toxic chemicals they release concentrate in large fish (who eat lots of little fish) and sea mammals, particularly in colder regions. It was shocking to hear a marine biologist talk about whales and dolphins being discarded as hazardous waste because of their high toxic chemical load. At present most killer whales are unable to reproduce, owing to their heavy exposure to endocrine disruptors. Human couples are also having more and more difficulty conceiving, as evidenced by the growing demand for in vitro fertilization.

British biochemist Paul Connett, a leading environmental health expert, features prominently in this part of the film. Author of The Case against Fluoride: How Hazardous Waste Ended Up in Our Drinker Water and the Bad Science and Power Politics That Keep It There, Connett’s a local hero here in New Plymouth. In 2011, he helped us persuade New Plymouth District Council to remove fluoride from our water supply.

Plastic Soup

The second half of the film addresses the tons of plastic filling up our oceans. The world produces 260 million tons of plastic every year. Plastic, which is manufactured from petroleum, consumes 8% of global oil production. Yet 30% of it is discarded within a year.

Although it never totally degrades, it eventually breaks up into confetti-sized fragments. Studies reveal the oceans contain six times as much of this plastic soup as microscopic zooplankton, the basic food source at the bottom of the food chain.

The Ultimate Solution: Eliminate Plastic Packaging

The documentary ends on an optimistic note, with a tour of communities participating in the Zero Waste movement. According to Irons, the most desirable solution is to pressure corporations to dispense with packaging in the first instance. Consumers also need to lean on supermarkets and other retailers to dispense more foods in bulk, as well as allowing shoppers to bring their own reusable containers to take them home. This will also greatly reduce food costs, given that packaging makes up more than half the sticker price.

Aggressive Recycling

In the mean time, a stronger commitment to recycling can go a long way towards keeping toxic chemicals out of our water and food and plastics out of the ocean. Waste analysts estimate that 90% of waste can be recycled at a potential savings of ₤6.4 billion ($US 9.9 billion) a year. Approximately 1.5 million jobs could be created in the process. By reusing these materials instead of replacing them, the reduction in climate pollution would be equivalent to taking half the world’s cars off the road.

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