Neil Seldman

October 25, 2012 | General

Commentary: “Trashed”

Neil Seldman

Neil Seldman
BioCycle October 2012, Vol. 53, No. 10, p. 52

“Trashed: No Place For Waste” is a new film by Candida Brady, narrated by Jeremy Irons. It now joins “Wasteland” and “Gasland” as must see movies that are providing critical insight and forming popular opinion on the human made problems that literally threaten the basis for life on the planet.
Like most zero waste and recycling advocates, Brady became hooked on waste after following her initial curiosity about what actually happened to the garbage she discarded as part of everyday life. We should be thankful for the results. “Trashed” conveys the message from the U.S. and worldwide recycling and anti-landfill and anti-incineration movements with dramatic footage, common sense reasoning and, at time times, shocking scenes of the devastation to the environment and human life.
Vivid graphics and maps underscore the thoughtful and reflective commentary by Irons, a distinguished and academy award-winning actor. His dialogue complements the scenes of devastation wrought by carelessness and greed. In one, Irons is seated on the shoreline of the Mediterranean Sea in the ancient Lebanese city of Sidon, which has been operating an open dump landfill since the l960s. A Saudi prince was moved to provide $5 million for clean up programs, which have had absolutely no effect as is evident in the scene.  We see the waves that had formerly washed over pristine beaches, now wash over hills and valleys of garbage from the lives of the city’s businesses and residents. There are plastic cups, toothbrushes, medical supplies, small and large appliances, food remnants and readily recognizable packaging from every day consumer purchases.
The waves recede to the sea through rivulets and lakes of garbage, with floating debris and detritus. Sea gulls are overhead. People recover recyclables and food for daily life. We listen to the rush of the turf as Irons takes in the bewildering scene. A beautiful sunset looms over the blue picturesque Mediterranean Sea.
An interplay of maps and graphics follows the cumulative impact of dumping garbage on this shore while contaminating water and beaches throughout the Mediterranean. Similarly footage and graphics show the contamination of the atmosphere from incineration of garbage in Europe. Irons finds the incineration alternative to dumping unacceptable.  He looks at how once productive farmland in Iceland has been made useless from toxic air emissions from a nearby incinerator.
Paul Connett, a chemist, clearly explains the basic laws of biology and chemistry that are interrupted by garbage incineration. His headshots are interspersed with the filming of this agricultural and human tragedy. Other, mostly European, scientists succinctly present the known scientific impacts of dioxins, mercury and other contaminants from air emissions and ash residues on the human species worldwide.
From poor countries to rich countries, garbage, and the complex problems that result, is ubiquitous. The film conveys a deep understanding of the problems created by consumption without attention to discards.
Contamination of the sea is further explored through interviews and footage of the work of Captain Charles Moore of the Algalita Foundation. Moore and his colleagues were the first to document the prevalence of plastic residues, which according to the film outnumber the amount of life-giving plankton by a 6:1 ratio. (Currently, the ratio has reached 21:1.) Every ocean in the world contains a film of plastic soup that lies just under the surface of the seas.

What To Do?

“Trashed” explores the alternatives to burn, bury and dump, although not adequately enough. Jack Macy from San Francisco, the world’s leading recycling city, briefly describes the city’s goals and methods available to any city on earth. But the full extent of what the recycling movements across the world have and are accomplishing environmentally and economically are not properly presented.
Unfortunately, the grass roots zero waste and recycling movements that have defeated hundreds of planned incinerators worldwide are not mentioned. These are the organizations, citizens groups and business networks that have actually turned the direction of the waste industry over the last decade. Yet it still will take years to right the system of industrial scale production and distribution that has wrought the crisis.
Although “Trashed” is an extraordinary asset in this endeavor to right the system, it does not give the proper dimension of the solutions already at hand. It does not provide the vision of what an environmentally and economically sound discard economy can readily become. As Paul Connett demonstrated in his earlier documentary, “Pieces of Zero,” the anti-incineration zero waste movement has grown from seeds to commercial and industrial dimensions. Viewers can envision an ‘unwasted’ economy and society. “Trashed” does not present this practical vision nor confront any name brand industrial giants, which produce the abandoned products and packaging, and leave the environmental and social scars so vividly depicted and described by Brady and Irons.
This lack of messaging on corporate accountability in the film is unfortunate. When Irons did have face time with a high level Danish official, the result is palpable. The official is practically speechless in hearing Irons’ common sense questions about the failure to attend to an incinerator in the face of scientific evidence of demonstrated harm to farmers, animals and agriculture. It would have been nice to see Irons interview a Nestle, Monsanto or Coca Cola sales executive vice president.
“Trashed” has not been publicly released. The film’s website is and a trailer is available at
Neil Seldman is President of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), which he cofounded in 1974. He specializes in approaches to municipal and commercial solid waste management that emphasize environmental quality and create economic development opportunities for small businesses, community organizations, and other targeted populations.

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