Dancing penguins and environmentalism


Have you seen the movie Happy Feet? It was a blockbuster last year, and with good reason. It’s very funny. Produced in Australia the film is set in Antarctic waters. But in political correct times there does of course have to be an issue with 'mystic beings' degrading the environment with marine debris.

Imagine what happens to the 6-pack ring carrier that holds cans of beer or coke, thrown away carelessly from a cruiser. In the movie little Lovelace, the young Rockhopper penguin, wears it around his neck as a souvenir. Alas! Poor little Lovelace is growing fast and the ring around his neck is getting tighter. So tight that later on a killer whale whose teeth got caught with the necklace thrashes Lovelace in and out of the Antarctic waters leaving him hanging on for dear life.

Well, now the other side of the story has been told by one of the major manufacturers of this ring carrier, Illinois-based ITW Hi-Cone. The ring is non-toxic and photodegradable within days and couldn’t strangle Lovelace at all. But nevertheless the ring carrier:

…has been in the environmental spotlight since the late 1970’s. People often associate it with animal entanglement. But it has been illegal under federal law to distribute non-degradable ring carriers since the (US) EPA crafted regulations in 1994 at the direction of Congress. All three major manufacturers of ring carriers currently produce them with 100 percent photodegradable plastic.

Photo-degradation means that the sun will break the bonds of the plastic polymers, because scientists have put weak links in place. Therefore the ring carriers lose 75 percent of their strength in a few days and fall apart completely in four weeks. The movie's Antarctic setting, with its thinning ozone layer, would expose Lovelace’s necklace to even more ultraviolet radiation and speed up the photodegradation. For all its entertainment value, Happy Feet is nonetheless another example of poor eco-science.