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Werner Boote, AT

Director of ‘Plastic Planet’

The idea for the project ‘Plastic Planet’ arose in 1999. Did you expect such huge interest or were you surprised at how well the film was received?


When one makes a film, one hopes that it will be seen. But I would never have thought that it would create such a stir. Families in Germany, Italy and Austria suddenly starting changing their lifestyles and living without plastic – just because of the film! I was suddenly invited to draw up legislation in Germany, and invited to Brussels or to climate change conferences in Cancún. One does not think of things of such scale at first. I would never have thought it to be possible that, because of the film, products would suddenly be taken from the market, or because of the film, new products would appear on the market. I was quite overwhelmed by this. On the other hand it is still too little: A few things have been banned, but in the case of many products – especially children’s toys – the situation still remains relatively catastrophic. Very, very much still needs to be done here.


What were the greatest challenges for you personally?


To digest the consequences of what one has seen and learnt! For example, to stand in a supermarket and to observe people buying all sorts of plastic products - of which one sometimes knows for certain, because they have been tested, that they are suspected of being carcinogenic or causing infertility or heart disease or allergies. That was actually the challenge to say: “Why does this exist and why do people do that?” “How can one inform the public that things are as they are?” This is why I wanted to make the movie – to relay this information. The worst was in Japan – at that point we already knew a relatively great deal and had tested many products. Then we were in a hypermarket. There you feel quite alone on the stage, and you wonder: “People, don’t you know what we have already heard until now?” I then went to have my blood tested for its plastic content...


And how much plastic did you have in your blood?


An insanely high amount. And then we thought: “Maybe it is only me, you might say on account of the family genes…”, but everyone on the team had all sorts of plastic in their blood. The fact is that everyone has all kinds of substances in their blood that are derived from plastics. And this was one of the most intense moments of the entire production. For one hopes that this is not the case. One thinks that the industry always looks after us so well, they only give us good products. Opposed to this were world-renowned scientists, who said that additives leak out from plastic – substances that kill brain cells, cause heart disease, etc. We wanted to know whether this was true and had the first product analysed chemically. The result was shocking.


What did you have it tested for?


Mainly for softening agents that are believed to cause cancer. The result was horrifying. Then I thought to myself: “Maybe I had bad luck in choosing this product.” We therefore tested all kinds of other products – and for each product there were different horrible reports, and that is when I asked myself what was actually happening. Where are the product checks? How do these companies work? And why doesn’t anyone do anything about it?


How did you yourself succeed in ‘living without plastics’?


I have a plastic mobile phone, a plastic computer, a plastic camera, otherwise I could not make films. But I have changed my consumer habits. I used to always have a plastic bottle standing next to my computer that I would refill with tap water and drink out of. Then I read a study that says that the more often one refills plastic bottles, the more additives and worrying chemicals leak out. So I switched the plastic bottle for a glass bottle. Now I have a glass bottle standing next to the computer. And by the way, my behaviour did have an effect: A year and a half after the film I had my blood tested again. The values had improved considerably. This means that if one is careful what one buys, one benefits.


What personal hopes and aims do you have with regard to the film?


It is important to me that companies view the entire cycle – from production to transport to disposal. Extensive testing is necessary for this. But consumers also have a contribution to make.


We want to single out sustainably operating companies with the SEA. How important is corporate responsibility to you?


That should first of all be important to the entrepreneurs themselves. If I can take someone seriously, then that helps the entrepreneur. In the area of plastics, there are three groups: on the one hand, the consumers, who shop with greater awareness, on the other hand, the politicians, who are strengthened by the greater awareness in the area of plastics and, which enables them to react differently in the discourse with the industry. Of course, one needs to be careful that no simple ‘green washing’ is being performed. Dioxin is also 100 % natural. We must specify whether something is environment-friendly or whether it is healthy.


Which companies were revealed to be exemplary during your research?


For the film, the main thing was to show where the grey areas lie or where the unpleasant stuff is and also to show positive aspects. I do not want to name any names at present. One of the few companies that, in my opinion, operates in a very clever and responsible manner, is Novamont. However, many are playing fast and loose when it comes to biodegradable plastics. And one always needs to view the entire cycle. Is it really biodegradable plastic? What additives does it contain? Is it genetically modified maize that has been brought from Africa or from Iran, so that those in Austria can think organically?


The education of consumers is probably the most important aspect there…


…that is also one of the reasons why I made Plastic Planet. To show what is actually happening and to tell people: “Look after that which is around you and that which is in your hands.” We also incorporated many messages into the film. The most important one is: “Welcome to the Plastic Planet. Let us strive towards creating a better Plastic Planet!”