How the Begley-Cohen Test Aims to Curb Single Use Plastic In Film and Television

Is your favorite TV show, movie, or other entertainment media doing the work to address the plastic pollution crisis? Most folks don’t tune in to count the number of single-use plastics they spot during their latest binge watch or movie night. That’s why Plastic Pollution Coalition has created a simple test to apply to film and television to help you easily tell if on-screen entertainment is taking steps to Flip the Script on Plastics. Introducing…

The Begley-Cohen Test

Inspired by and modeled after the Bechdel-Wallace Test, which is used to measure female representation in media, The Begley-Cohen Test is designed to help audiences quickly assess the representation and prevalence of single-use plastic within the content they consume.

A film or TV show passes The Begley-Cohen Test if…

(1) No single-use plastics appear on screen (i.e., the film/show is set in a time with no plastic, or plastics are replaced with refillable, reusable, or package-free options), or…

(2) If a single-use plastic item appears on screen, it is portrayed or discussed as problematic.

Why Begley-Cohen?

While there are many environmental heroes in the entertainment industry today, there is one name in Hollywood that is synonymous with environmental protection and that is Ed Begley Jr. 

From making iconic Simpsons jokes, to being recognized with a 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Environmental Media Awards, Ed Begley Jr. is a name that has been synonymous with environmentalism in Hollywood for decades. Ed has also been a champion of Plastic Pollution Coalition since its founding in 2009, acting as a Notable Founding Coalition Member. We are excited to honor Ed Begley Jr. and his environmental legacy with this important new test for the on-screen entertainment industry. 

“The Begley-Cohen Test is a simple way to gauge if our most loved shows are portraying the world we need to create. What we see is what we do, and the entertainment industry can help audiences shift away from our toxic throwaway culture. It is an honor to have my name attached to this important tool to help Flip the Script on Plastics in Hollywood.” – Ed Begley Jr. 

And, of course, we also wanted to honor Plastic Pollution Coalition’s co-founder and CEO, Dianna Cohen. Dianna is a visual artist whose work with plastic as a material helped start Plastic Pollution Coalition and sparked much of the awareness of the issue that exists and continues to evolve today.

Applying the Test to Popular Media

The Begley-Cohen Test is intended to help you simply and quickly identify if the movie, show, or other media you’re watching portrays the world free of plastic pollution that we are working to create.

Some movies and shows will pass the test by premise alone. Recent films like The Northman or Persuasion automatically pass simply because they are set in a time before plastic.

On the other end of the spectrum, some media fails the test as soon as you see their promotional material, such as NBC’s The Thing About Pam, a show who’s ads prominently featured star Renee Zellweger holding a polystyrene cup (aka “Styrofoam”) with a plastic straw.

Some films are more nuanced when it comes to this test, such as David Chronenberg’s new film Crimes of the Future, where the few pieces of single-use plastic on screen are not always discussed as problematic, until it is revealed that the overarching theme of the movie is, ‘We’re destroying the Earth with plastic, so what do we do with that?’ — Yahoo Entertainment

With some media, it may take until the last scene to spot a moment that fails the test, and if that is the case, that’s still pretty darn good. 

This is Just a Jumping-off Point

Much like the Bechdel-Wallace test, the Begley-Cohen test shouldn’t be seen as the ultimate be-all, end-all of plastic pollution representation in media, but merely as a baseline of the bare minimum that creators may use as their jumping-off point to removing plastics from both their storylines and their sets. 

So, next time you sit down to watch a TV show, movie, or other on-screen entertainment, ask yourself, am I seeing plastic in this storyline? And if so, are the characters treating it as a problem, or simply letting it become another piece of trash in the massive pile of worldwide plastic pollution? 

With The Begley-Cohen Test, we are providing a tool for audiences and content creators to recognize, imagine, create, and implement a world without plastic pollution. Together we are shifting popular culture to change the perception of toxic throwaway plastic as being normal—because it’s not.

Dianna Cohen, Co-Founder and CEO of Plastic Pollution Coalition

Learn More and Get Involved

Learn more about the Flip the Script on Plastics here, and let us know what content you’re consuming that passes The Begley-Cohen Test by posting screenshots or just tell us what you’re seeing and tag it using #FlipTheScriptOnPlastics.

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Hollywood, CA –  Plastic Pollution Coalition hosted a star-studded panel discussion on January 19 exploring the portrayal and prevalence of single-use plastics in film and TV, featuring Hollywood activists and artists Yareli Arizmendi, Fran Drescher, and Kyra Sedgwick, along with Dana Weinstein, Project Specialist for the Media Impact Project at the Norman Lear Center, USC. The panel was moderated by Dianna Cohen, Co-Founder, and CEO of Plastic Pollution Coalition.

Hollywood Stars Plastic

As part of Plastic Pollution Coalition’s new multi-year initiative to “Flip the Script on Plastics,” these and many more entertainment industry players are putting into practice the old adage that “life imitates art” by modeling the systemic change needed to solve the plastic pollution crisis, a significant contributor to the climate crisis. They are part of a growing coalition of actors, writers, producers, and showrunners who are committing to shun single-use plastics on set and to use and show package-free and reusable and refillable systems on screen in popular television shows and movies.

Single-use plastics are the primary source of plastic pollution on the planet, with Americans alone discarding more than 30 million tons of plastic a year. With 99% of plastics made from fossil fuels, the climate and environmental justice implications are significant and increasing.  The plastics industry’s contribution to climate change is on track to exceed that of coal-fired power in the U.S. by 2030.

The first-ever analysis of the portrayal and prevalence of single-use plastics and reusable alternatives in popular scripted television conducted by the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center found them awash with plastic pollution, modeling a behavior contradictory to the industry’s oft-purported values. The report, commissioned by Plastic Pollution Coalition, with support from the Break Free From Plastic movement and Plastic Solutions Fund, suggests that instead of portraying the unfortunate reality of excessive plastic use, films and TV shows could help change society’s throwaway culture by modeling life with less single-use plastic.

We are shaped and formed by what we watch. Media has the power to reimagine the world and blaze a trail to a more just, equitable, regenerative, healthy, thriving plastic-free world for all living beings, if we commit and act now.

Dianna Cohen, Co-Founder and CEO, Plastic Pollution Coalition

Decades of research show that scripted entertainment plays a powerful role in shaping our social norms, attitudes, and behavior on a wide variety of health and social issues. Thus, entertainment can be a highly effective medium for modeling sustainable practices and systems.

Dana Weinstein, M.A., Project Specialist at USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center

As President of SAG-AFTRA and Founder of Cancer Schmancer, I am excited about Plastic Pollution Coalition’s Flip the Script initiative; I am creating a seminal Green Council to clean up Hollywood and reduce our industry’s carbon footprint. We must be forward thinking and always consider innovations’ long-term impacts on the health of the planet.

Fran Drescher, actress, founder of Cancer Schmancer, and president of the Screen Actors Guild/American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA)

Plastic Pollution Coalition is engaging the entertainment industry in both on- and off-screen efforts with the intention to change individual behaviors in homes and workplaces, and advocate for corporate and policy changes across the globe; some notable members of Plastic Pollution Coalition include Sergio Arau, Ed Begley, Jr., Jack Bender, Jeff Bridges, Jeff Franklin, Jake Kasdan, Mandy Moore, and Alfre Woodard, among others. 

Sign up for the webinar here.

Download the full report here.

About Plastic Pollution Coalition: Plastic Pollution Coalition is a growing global alliance of more than 1,200 organizations, businesses, and thought leaders in 75 countries working toward a more just, equitable world free of plastic pollution and its toxic impact on humans, animals, waterways, oceans, and the environment. 

About the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center: The Norman Lear Center is a nonpartisan research and public policy center that studies the social, political, economic and cultural impact of entertainment on the world. It is based at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism

MEDIA CONTACT: Jen Fela, Vice President, Programs & Communications, jen@plasticpollutioncoalition.org

Be sure to check out the recording of our January 2022 Webinar: Flip the Script on Plastics in Hollywood: Rethinking Single-Use Plastics in Film & Television featuring activists and artists Yareli Arizmendi, Fran Drescher, and Kyra Sedgwick, along with Dana Weinstein, Project Specialist for the Media Impact Project at the Norman Lear Center, USC.