December 28, 2021
Yara Bakker

6 Must-see documentaries about waste

Like most people, we enjoy watching a good documentary from time to time. These works of art enable you to discover the world around you from the comfort of your living room, while the impressive footage and soothing voice-overs tend to instil a renewed appreciation for the many wonders of nature.

At Byewaste, we try to make sure that we are always up to date regarding the relevant developments in the field of waste processing and recycling. As a result, we have consumed most of the podcasts, documentaries, and lectures that are available on this particular topic. As the provision of information about the impact of trash on the environment is one of our top priorities, we would like to share our favourite documentaries with you.

We will discuss the following films in this article:

1. Waste Land
2. Garbage Warrior
3. Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things
4. A Plastic Ocean
5. Trashed
6. Plastic Paradise

You can watch these documentaries alone to educate yourself or together with your peers to spark a constructive discussion. In the remaining part of this article, we will give a short description of what each documentary is about.

1. Waste Land

Waste Land documents the lives of a group of people that had to look through the trash in Jardim Gramacho in order to survive.

Jardim Gramacho was the world’s largest landfill at the time. It was located close to Rio the Janeiro in Brazil, and it covered no less than 1.3 square kilometres with nothing else than heaps of garbage. In over thirty years, about 60 million tons of trash accumulated there.

The viewer is introduced to Vik Muniz, an inspirational artist who collaborates with a group of these “pickers” to create contemporary art with the items that they find. The impressive documentary was released in 2010 at the Sundance festival and has received over fifty film awards.

Muniz ended up giving back the money that he earned by selling his works of art as well as the prize money from the film awards to the community.

2. Garbage Warrior

Garbage Warrior follows American eco-architect Michael Reynolds on his quest to build self-sufficient homes made from natural materials and recycled products such as cans, car tires and bottles.

He started building these houses in the 1970s, and his creations are often referred to as ‘Earth Ships’. Providing an unconventional and radically sustainable alternative to the traditional way of living, he shows that the items that people throw in the trash can still be of value when you think outside of the box.

Although his first projects turned out to be considerably flawed, the architect kept experimenting and continued to develop and improve his style of building over the years, inspiring his audience to never give up on their dreams.

The film was released in 2007 at the Hotdocs Film Festival and has won two awards.

3. Minimalism: a Documentary about the Important Things

The third documentary that we discuss was released in 2015 and makes its viewers rethink their own lifestyles by promoting the minimalist way of living in an accessible manner.

You get a glimpse of the lives of many relatable individuals who have only one thing in common: they are trying to create a meaningful life while reducing their possessions to the bare minimum, rejecting the widely held consumerist belief that it is things that bring happiness.

While hordes of popular influencers already publicly advocate for a minimalist lifestyle, the true value of this documentary lies in its portrayal that everyone can easily apply at least some of the basic principles of minimalism in their everyday lives.

4. A Plastic Ocean

A Plastic Ocean is an award-winning film that has been shown at many environmental film festivals since its release in 2016.

It investigates the environmental impact of our plastic waste, specifically in relation to our oceans. Many well-known spokespersons contributed to the documentary, such as Barack Obama, David Attenborough and Ben Fogle.

While looking for the blue whale, journalist Craig Leeson found nothing but plastic waste in his path. To uncover the ugly truth about plastic pollution, he decides to visit twenty destinations together with free diver Tanya Streeter and an international team of scientists.

While documenting their journey that lasts for the next four years, he also discusses some practical solutions to the issue, ending on a hopeful note.

5. Trashed

Trashed is another remarkable environmental documentary which has received several awards and was released in 2012 at the Cannes Film Festival.

In a sharp critique of the consumerist lifestyle, the film shows the true impact of the wasteful behaviour that is so characteristic for modern society. To investigate the matter, Jeremy Irons talks to many scientists, politicians and people who were personally affected by waste pollution.

Just like in the previous documentary on our list, several possible solutions to the issue are discussed. Moreover, it is demonstrated how these techniques are applied in many communities around the world.

6. Plastic Paradise

Plastic Paradise is another documentary on the topic of plastic waste and our oceans. The film won many awards and was released in 2013.

We follow Angela Sun while she investigates the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is where the plastic waste of three different continents accumulates. It currently covers roughly 1.6 million square kilometres and weighs approximately 80.000 tonnes, according to The Ocean Cleanup.

While the most direct effects of plastic pollution might be contained to the ocean and the forms of life it harbours, the implications for our own health are also discussed in this documentary.

Have you watched any of these documentaries yourself, or would you like to suggest some other ones that we should watch? Please let us know!