If you haven’t watched ‘Trashed‘ (2012), the award-winning environmental documentary created by Jeremy Irons, featured in the official selection of Festival de Cannes (2012) and screened at the UK parliament, you should do it right now. Not only does the film shock and inform about the current state of affairs with waste around the world, exposing the impacts landfills have on the state of the Mediterranean in Lebanon, the harmful practices of waste incineration generating dioxins that are avoiding even the most modern filters in Iceland. It shows examples of hazardous waste management in the UK, France and many countries. Jeremy Irons travels to Vietnam to find out about the horrific effects of agent orange sprayed in the course of the Vietnam war that affects genes and causes birth defects. The example of Vietnam shows the effects of only higher concentrations of harmful dioxins that our bodies cannot process, compared to those emitted by incinerators. Another crucial but ‘inconvenient truth’ is revealed by a celebrated actor exploring the impact of waste pollution on marine life, where according to Ellen MacArthur foundation by 2050 we are expecting to see the 50%/50% split between plastics and fish in the world’s oceans by mass. The enormous waste processing cites in India, Nigeria and China, which could clearly be the focus of Foreign Aid of the developed world, that often sends its waste there are another example featured in the documentary. The film concludes with positive examples of waste recycling practices in San Francisco, which is leading the world. The film is available on Amazon but only a few copies are left: Trashed.
It is absolutely clear that unless some rapid and creative policy interventions are made (we have been campaigning for the ‘International Plastics Convention’), we won’t be able to solve this problem at the global scale. Yes, some countries are moving forward banning plastic bags or imposing a 5p charge like in the UK, but it is certainly not enough. We need to talk about new biodegradable materials, standardization – of 88000 types of plastics currently in circulation only PET has an economically viable recycling technology in place, stimulating new approaches to design and possibly restricting the use of some types of plastics in particular applications like packaging. It seems that currently, neither society nor industry or even academia are prepared to openly discuss the scope of the solutions required.
I have resorted to the language of art and exhibited the ‘Object Found on the Beach’ series at the curated show within Fotonoviembre de Tenerife Photography Festival in Spain in 2015, which was featured at ArtCOP21. Some of these images have been shown at the Brighton Photo Biennial and Brighton Photo Fringe. I will be showing at the British Pavilion at the forthcoming UNFCCC COP23 in Bonn and you could support our work by acquiring limited edition prints at: Stanislav Shmelev via SaatchiArt.
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Image (c) Dr Stanislav Shmelev