As someone who lives in one of the 20 US cities that currently has a zero waste initiative, and someone who cares deeply about sustainability and other ecological issues, Candida Brady’s new documentary, TRASHED, is making me seriously reevaluate my commitments. I thought I was doing pretty good. My household of four generates maybe a bag and a half of trash a week, we recycle probably twice that amount, and I have a good little compost pile going in my yard (not in the most ideal location, but that’s another matter). I’ve been using reusable grocery bags for years. I use cloth napkins and metal water bottles that I fill from the tap every day. I use biodegradable cleaning products and rarely eat packaged foods. I thought I was doing a pretty good job, but still had that nagging feeling in the back of my head that I really could be doing more (and consuming less) with just a little bit more effort. That feeling is no longer a nagging feeling in the back of my head, but a throbbing awareness occupying the majority of my frontal lobe. Which, I suspect, was one of many reasons Brady wanted to make this film.
The issue of waste is an issue that really is something that can be addressed by individuals changing their habits on a large scale. But this film isn’t just about the amount of waste we 21st century humans generate (which is an obscene amount, lemme tell ya). It’s about what we do with it, what we don’t do with it, and what we COULD (and probably should) do with it.
TRASHED covers topics from landfills and the problems they create for locals (which is way more than just the smell), to degrading plastics in the North Pacific Gyre getting into the food chain and affecting biodiversity and fertility in marine life, to micro-ash from incinerators spreading dioxin (the most toxic of known chemicals… think agent orange) over farmland and destroying the livelihood of farmers and the health of anyone who breaths it, and the associated lawsuits that were thrown out because the burden of proof fell to the wrong party (i.e. the burden of proof was on the citizens to prove the toxicity of the ash instead of on the corporations to prove the ash was, in fact, safe).
It’s one of those documentaries that covers the spectrum of emotion from sadness to anger to desperation and then back to more sadness (especially when they get to the Vietnamese hospital for kids with major birth defects, presumable from the lasting effects of Agent Orange… that part was hard to watch). But it doesn’t leave you hanging. As with any good documentary about serious topics such as this, it ends with messages of hope. There are lots of people doing things right…
Like the prison in Yorkshire that has a digester that takes food scraps and turns it into energy (via methane) and compost to use in the gardens where the prisoners raise some of their own food. Not only is it good for the environment but is teaching a useable skill! Or the shops popping up all over the place that don’t use packaging (Austin has one, it’s called in.gredients)… Did you know that San Francisco recycles 75% of its waste and it’s recycling plant provides thousands of quality jobs, with benefits, to area residents?
I could go on and on. All in all it’s an excellent film. The topic is poignant, the cinematography amazing, and it moves along at a speed that keeps it from getting bogged down in any one area. The only drawback I can see is getting this to an audience that doesn’t already know and care about these things. In my case it’s kind of like converting the already converted. These are issues I ALREADY care about and now am inspired to do even more, or really just be less lazy about what I already know I should be doing. And in a city like Austin this will probably be the case for the majority of people who see this film. But what about people who don’t think about sustainability or consumption at all (those people still exist right?).
Here’s the trailer!