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Looking for Meaning in the Pacific Trash Vortex

May 20, 2010

With all the coverage around the gulf oil spill lately I’ve been thinking about beaches when I was a kid. Growing up near the coast in the states, we spent a lot of time beachcombing and scavenging the shoreline. When lucky you’d find bits of beach glass, the frosted shards produced by the tumbling action of the shore. Through a simple process garbage was transformed into gems, and there was a hierarchy and system of colours based on rarity. As I got older this glass was gradually replaced by the then still exotic plastic castoffs from Asia; strange junk food wrappers, laundry detergent, and unknown bottles labelled in foreign script, all caught in a direct current from afar. Then it seemed evidence of some elephant’s graveyard of objects, a place where things were drawn to as a final resting place out there, and you were lucky to catch a glimpse of on shore.

And now one hears about the great Pacific Trash Vortex, an immense floating island of plastics and sludge that some say is the size of Texas or possibly the entire continental United States. We’ve made a destination of our garbage, and as such it may still be an elephant graveyard of sorts, however instead of the fevered desire of poachers, we’ve constructed a manmade continent or monument of temporary objects that never break down, always hovering just past our shore and accumulating.

What does this mean when things don’t break down or go away, but instead continually accrue? Exploring this is Ramin Bahrini’s film ‘Plastic Bag’ about a discarded bag struggling with its immortality, and narrated by Herzog.

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