While working for the NBA in 2015, Jeff Goosley watched a sick co-worker make green tea in a Keurig to try to make herself feel better.
“That was the ‘a-ha moment’ for me,” said Goosley, a 2012 communications alumnus. “She’s drinking this to make herself feel better, when the BPA that is seeping out of the [Keurig pod] may be making her sick.”
The encounter inspired Goosley to produce “Unpacked,” a documentary about the negative effects plastic has on the environment and humans.
Tom Winter and Jack Nitz, both 2013 film and media arts alumni, directed the film, which will be screened in Amsterdam at Around International Film Festival, an independent film festival, in April 2019.
The team created the documentary to inform viewers of the potential dangers of the chemicals found in food packaging, like hormone disruption. It also advises viewers of ways to reduce the amount of plastic they use by avoiding straws and plastic bags.
“There are ways to be conscious,” Winter said. “There are lifestyle choices that you can make now that benefit you in more ways than just affecting your hormones through packaging.”
“Unpacked” focuses on endocrine disruptors, which the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences classifies as chemicals that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system. Endocrine disruptors can create imbalances of thyroid hormones and estrogen, potentially causing abnormal tissue growth and infertility.
The most well-known endocrine disruptor is bisphenol A, or BPA, which is found in everyday items like water bottles, microwavable containers and canned goods.
Despite the prevalence of BPA, Winter said he hopes the documentary will make people more aware of other endocrine disruptors, too. Other endocrine disruptors include natural hormones and chemicals like fungi, synthetically produced pharmaceuticals like birth control, and pesticides, according to the European Commission.
“We try to get it across that BPA is the tip of the iceberg,” Winter said.
Prior to producing “Unpacked,” Goosley said he wasn’t concerned with the chemicals in food packaging. He said he knew little about the topic – like many other people.
Nitz added there is little information available about the effects of food packaging on consumers’ bodies and the environment.
“It was surprising to us that it isn’t a known thing and there’s no content out there,” Nitz said. “We thought this would be a good opportunity to make that accessible.”
Goosley said he hopes to spread awareness about the issues discussed in “Unpacked,” make people feel like they are capable of reducing the amount of plastic used and invite viewers to research environmental issues.
“We are hoping ‘Unpacked’ will be that media catalyst to make people interested in reading the scholarly articles [about plastic] that have been coming out,” Goosley said.
The team is excited to have its documentary screened overseas in the spring and to see where the exposure will take the project, Nitz said.
“We found so far that Europeans that have been involved in the making of this are a lot more ready to accept it,” he added. “Most of the people we talked to here [in the United States] act like we’re crazy to even think about it.”
“Unpacked” features interviews with European sustainability leaders like Jane Muncke, the managing director of the Swiss charity Food Packaging Forum, Bea Johnson, the French author of Zero Waste Home, and Milena Glimbovski, the co-owner of a zero-waste grocery store called Original Unverpackt in Berlin.
But showing “Unpacked” at the festival is just the starting point. Nitz said he hopes the film will be shown around the United States where he thinks it will be even more impactful.
Winter has similar goals for the project. In addition to educating the public, he said he hopes the film will change public policy in a way that isn’t a Band-Aid solution to the plastic problem.
“We are trying to make sure that the legal system and politicians find the right way to regulate an industry that isn’t regulated at all,” he added. “It’s like the Wild West. As long as a product works and consumers don’t see it as dangerous, then it’s good to go.”