Plastic instead of paradise: How the YouTube series "7 vs. Wild" involuntarily holds up a mirror to us
Created: 2022-12-21 07:43
By: Philipp David Pries, Marie Ries
Global plastic production has been increasing rapidly since the 1950s.
In the series "7 vs. Wild" Fritz Meinecke and his comrades-in-arms get to see the consequences of this.
© afp/PantherMedia/fritz.meinecke/Instagram (montage)
The German survival series "7 vs. Wild" wants to show idyllic beaches and the palm paradise of Panama on YouTube.
But instead, millions of people are currently seeing gigantic amounts of plastic waste.
Shirtless candidate Ottogerd Karasch strides across the palm-covered beach.
"It's a paradise, and we humans screwed it up," he says shamefacedly into the camera.
And the spectators look at countless plastic bottles, flip-flops and camping chairs.
The survival series "7 vs. Wild" on YouTube is currently sending volunteers into the Pacific wilderness of Isla de San José for seven days alone - and thus into a lot of garbage.
And yet the large quantities are more than just a blemish: Here in Panama, a problem is becoming apparent that is also endangering the health of people and animals in Germany.
"7 vs. Wild" in Panama: Candidates are shocked by the amount of garbage
An analysis of all YouTube episodes shows that the large amount of plastic on the Isla de San José is also immediately negative for the survival candidates.
In the first one alone, the word “garbage” is mentioned seven times.
And that's already exactly as much as in all 16 episodes of the first season in Sweden (see background box at the end).
This is no coincidence: 7 vs. Wild Island belongs to Panama, a country with a very big plastic problem.
With long coastlines to the Caribbean Atlantic and the Pacific, it becomes a catchment area for garbage that ends up in the oceans.
The Caribbean is particularly affected.
There is four times as much plastic waste on the beaches there as the global average.
The location of "7 vs. Wild" is on the Pacific coast - and therefore on the even less polluted side.
But how does the plastic actually get into the oceans?
More than 80 percent of plastic waste first ends up in rivers and is later washed into the sea, according to a Dutch study.
Especially smaller rivers in urban areas bring a lot of waste with them.
Perforated plastic bottles, worn flip-flops and unloved toys then drift out of the mouths into the oceans.
Centrifugal currents carry millions of tons of rubbish together in large rubbish carpets.
The largest is called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and is located in the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and California.
It is estimated to be four and a half times the size of Germany.
Plastic accumulates in large garbage patches in the oceans
However, one cannot imagine the Great Pacific Garbage Patch as a gigantic island of garbage.
Because only a small part of the marine plastic is visible: Less than one percent of the plastic waste floats on the water surface.
In addition, a large part of the flotsam consists of very small plastic parts and is therefore difficult to see on satellite images, for example.
There are a total of five of these garbage patches in the world's oceans, and scientists warn of the emergence of a sixth.
Microplastics could lead to cancer and reduced fertility
What is shown in Panama is also a possible danger to our health in Germany.
Plastic parts in the sea and rivers are turned into tiny microplastic particles by sunlight and progressive crushing - and these finally get back into our bodies via rain, drinking water and marine animals.
Chemical compounds from plastic are already detectable in human blood and stool all over the world.
Doctors fear, among other things, reduced fertility in men and more cancer cases.
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Fancy a voyage of discovery?
Washed up plastic bottles and food wrappers are piled up in front of the skyline of Panama City.
© Luis Acosta/afp
As the medical journal The Lancet soberly puts it: “Until now, marine debris has been considered a distant problem.
Now it is becoming an acute danger for humans and future generations.” The German Federal Office for Risk Research (BFR) is even more cautious.
It currently assumes that the amounts of plastic ingested are probably too small to be harmful to the human body.
For most experts, however, the current data situation is still too poor for definitive statements.
Germany is the largest exporter of plastic waste in the EU
The garbage in the seas is a big problem anyway, and this also makes the home of the "7.
vs. Wild” participants in Europe.
According to the Federal Environment Agency, there are now around 400 pieces of garbage per hundred meters on German beaches.
Most of these plastic parts come from shipping, tourism and fishing, since comparatively little waste ends up in our rivers.
However, Germany is also the largest exporter of plastic waste in the EU and sent more than 50,000 tons of plastic waste to Malaysia in 2021.
Natural decomposition of plastic takes centuries
What to do now against the garbage, against this gigantic amount of plastic?
In any case, waiting is not an option.
If someone had thrown a bottle into the sea in the Middle Ages, it would not have been fully decomposed until today: 450 years later.
That is why there are now many initiatives to fish garbage out of the sea.
If only because the garbage is also a big problem for animals and tourism.
The best known is the Dutch organization Ocean Cleanup.
Their ships are trailing a large garbage collection barrier.
Similar approaches also exist for rivers.
But this is just as much criticism as beach collection campaigns, the lasting effect of which is being questioned.
Other initiatives are also trying to bind and neutralize the microplastics in the water.
However, none of this went beyond pilot projects.
Fighting plastic: Industry and consumers need to rethink
At the end of the day, humanity has to make up for what it has brought on elsewhere.
If there were no waste at all, it would be many times cheaper in economic terms.
The Bavarian market town of Mering recently demonstrated how this avoidance could work on a small scale.
Many residents took every opportunity to keep the rubbish bins empty.
In the end, there was a 67 percent drop in household waste thrown away.
Beyond these projects, however, one thing is clear to all experts: Without a restructuring of the industry, a different way of dealing with waste and a different consumer behavior, the plastic in the seas will remain a reality.
For the contestants in "7 vs. Wild", the rubbish on the beaches means above all an unpleasant experience.
And the organizers of the YouTube series that is just coming to an end were at least honest with the viewers.
They could have removed all the trash from the beaches of Isla de San Jose before filming began.
But they left the plastic in paradise and thus also showed the less idyllic side: all the garbage in the seas is a current task for decades and centuries.
And one for which humanity has not yet had a real plan.
Our methods, sources and data
We evaluated the frequency of mentions of the word "garbage" in "7 vs. Wild" based on the automated transcripts of all episodes.
In doing so, we have taken into account all cases relating to actual waste in nature.
The film editing can naturally lead to distortions because it cannot correspond to the actual number of mentions of every day.
Data on plastic pollution in rivers comes from the Clean Currents Coalition and from a scientific study funded by the organization Ocean Cleanup.
In addition, we base our analysis on findings from the US oceanographic agency NOAA, on the plastic atlas of the Heinrich Böll Foundation and on a study by scientists at the Technical University of Panama City.
The figures for Germany's waste exports can be found on the website of the Federal Statistical Office.
Individual facts and analyzes are based on an exchange with the Federal Office for Risk Assessment (BFR).