'The Discarded' Plastic in Rio's Bay

By Elizabeth Glazner

When the 2016 Summer Olympic Games officially launch in Rio de Janeiro this August, we're going to get more than the usual drama of international athletic competition. We're also going to see errant shopping carts, couches and other audacious debris floating in Brazil's iconic waters, along with the visual stench of a bay full of plastic pollution.

Rio's enormous waste problem also smells really bad. But filmmakers can only capture its olfactory dimension in the screwed-up expressions of their interview subjects, who try to describe what it's like to sail in Guanabara Bay, with picturesque Sugarloaf Mountain as backdrop, while continuously spitting out the putrid water they accidentally take into their mouths.

Here's a trailer for "The Discarded: A Tale of Two Rios," a short film that tries to capture the problem:

"The Discarded" is a short documentary being produced by Sound Off Films, a small production company founded by filmmakers Annie Costner (daughter of actor/filmmaker Kevin Costner) and Adrienne Hall. They met working for Oceanic Preservation Society on 2015's "Racing Extinction" (Costner did primary research and development; Hall is associate producer), the follow-up to the Academy Award-winning documentary "The Cove."

"The Discarded" is being produced with support from Plastic Pollution Coalition and legaSeas, and is currently seeking additional funds and partners to see the film to completion.

"The Discarded" unfolds through the eyes of Artúr, a 9-year-old boy who lives in one of the favelas that hold 22 percent of Rio's poorest residents. Like the plastic bottle that descends through runoff from the slums to the sea, so in a sense does Artúr, who is looking for a way out. After school at Projeto Grael, Artúr learns how to sail, while gaining valuable skills that might help him move beyond life in the slums.

His journey, and that of others like him, is simple, but fraught with enormous challenges. Viewers are left with the big questions: What does it mean to ignore subsets of society, to label some as worthy, and others as discarded?

While plastic pollution chokes the life out of Guanabara Bay, the city has mounted an effort to bandage the problem with expensive one-time solutions that are supposed to be meted out in time for the Olympics. The filmmakers juxtapose government pandering to wealthy patrons and tourists with the reality of the lives of locals, who live with ghastly pollution on Guanabara Bay every day. 

Costner and Hall plan to continue shooting in Brazil during summer and fall of 2016. Meanwhile, city officials swear they are going to clean up 80 percent of Rio's pollution, at least by the time the Olympics begin. It hasn't happened yet. And what happens when the Olympic camera crews leave town—when 22 percent of the population is still without sanitation and waste removal services?


Nine-year-old Artúro is the storyteller in "The Discarded." Photo courtesy of Sound Off Films.