Saturday, 18th february 2023.
Nestle, Unilever, Procter & Gamble. This is the gamut of the top companies polluting our world with plastic. Do you know what actually happens to the plastics that you and I dutifully drop off at the Ecoponto to be recycled? Well, do you?
At the moment, the play „Alice in the Wonderland of Waste“ (Alice no País do Lixo), staged by the AORCA troupe in Lagos looks at the issue of waste recycling using drama and dance. Last Tuesday I atched the dress rehearsal, for there can be no review without seeing the actual play performed. Which is why I invited myself, all the while getting the feeling that they weren’t overly keen to be watched at work.
ECO123 was the only press outlet present, and when we wanted to take some pictures to accompany the review, we weren’t allowed to do so, with the explanation that the actors were playing in civvies…
So what does plastic waste consist of? To a large part of crude oil. If you’re looking at the issue of waste you need some background information. Which is why I re-watched the „The Recycling Lie“ documentary, with a substantial running time of 115 minutes and which may now also be found on YouTube. The film first aired on public television in Germany, produced by WDR/NDR for the ARD network. The director was Carsten Störmer and it was first shown on 19 October 2022. So this film is fairly recent in fact.
This is a film that Brazilian choreographer Maria Clara Villa-Lobos will have watched too, living as she does in Brussels, with access to ARD programming. Villa-Lobos is responsible for the AORCA stage adaptation in Lagos: on the Thursday and Friday after Carnival – 23 and 24 February at 10.30am and 3.3pm at the Centro Cultural and on Saturday at 4pm. Don’t miss it.
By now it is common knowledge that there is not just one type of plastic. Recycling has become more difficult, as the drinking cup containing yoghurt cannot be recycled together with a plastic bottle that used to contain detergent. All you can do with plastics is downcycle them: turn them into flower pots, railway sleepers, or signposts. This is how far the idea of recycling in the sense of creating value goes. As plastics burn well, the heat generated may be used to power a turbine, which in turn produces electricity. „Before plastics enter the furnace and burn, they smell“, says Sascha Schuh, a downcycler working for the Ascon Resource Management company who features in the film.
Back to Lagos. The stage is covered in trash, with the dancers and actors wallowing in it. Alice, a lonely eight-year old girl, is shown as a child consumer throwing away her toys, as at some point the world of consumables becomes boring. What she wants is a real dog. Wanting instead of Being leads nowhere but to buying, consuming and destroying. She receives stuffed animals. Which she subsequently throws away. A similar fate awaits the milk and yoghurt packaging, the colourful juice cartons, the plastic bags etc. made from polyethylene.
All these items are impossible to recycle together, which is however something the actors seem to be suggesting to me, to the audience. What about avoiding waste generation altogether? The same strategy is adopted by the likes of Nestle, Unilever and Procter. Their common mantra is that it’s not plastics as such that’s the problem, but the way we deal with the matter. All the while they are keeping quiet about the technical impossibility of recycling different kinds of plastics, even different colours, in such a way to yield something of value to manufacturers.
This piece of dance theatre is dodging reality. Yet Maria Clara Villa-Lobos should know better. If you’re adapting a play you have to start with some proper research. Especially where children are concerned.
In order to respond to the question we asked at the beginning: the plastic waste we drop off at the Ecoponto is collected, bundled up into bales and subsequently shipped off to places like China,Turkey, or Indonesia, or wherever. You see, waste has become a commodity used to earn lots of money, similar to prostitution or human trafficking. Our ARD colleague had attached a GPS transmitter to his own waste bag, enabling him to find out where his plastic was being „recycled“, sorry, I mean, shipped to and thrown away. So he basically used a hidden camera to follow his own trash.
The film can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KD8fcTyjP1E