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  • Jenica Barrett

Best Environmental Movies about Waste

Updated: Nov 20, 2020

We've all been reading through one of those two hundred page books and wondered if there wasn't a faster way to learn this information...And for those of you who like visual learning or are looking for an educational movie-night, I've made the perfect list for you!

Before we get into this list, I should clarify that not every documentary on this list is directly about waste. But with topics ranging from agriculture to global warming, all of these movies will cover the many aspects that waste impacts our lives. They also aren't ranked in any particular order except from best to best!

A Plastic Ocean, 2016

Released just last year in 2016, this is the most current documentary I have seen about waste. Focusing on plastic pollution in the ocean, this documentary takes a very real, hard look at the effects of plastic on marine wildlife. If you are a little squeamish, be prepared as they do show graphic images of birds and fish being gutted with plastic pieces filling their stomachs. Your heart will be ripped out by some of the stories you hear about the people who live on a plastic filled island with no place to go. Overall, this movie is very inspiring in a “make you depressed” kind of way but does briefly touch on ways to avoid plastic use at the end.

The True Cost, 2015

The fashion industry is a huge contributor to world waste and also famous for its horrible worker conditions. This documentary looks at the true cost behind every piece of clothing we purchase and the drastic effects it has on our health, wallets, and the environment. With fast fashion psychology convincing us to buy more and more clothing each year, this movie is a must see to really understand why voting with your dollar is so important. And why we really don’t benefit from buying more.

Trashed, 2012

This documentary takes a critical look at the effects landfills and incineration plants have on the environment and our health. Focusing heavily on the toxins found in garbage, you will walk away with a better understanding of how they can dramatically affect our bodies. The film is rather long but provides great examples from all over the world and a well-rounded picture of why garbage is harmful. The film concludes by highlighting zero waste initiatives around the world as well as cities pushing for mandatory recycling and composting programs.

Minimalism, 2015

Both the zero waste movement and the minimalism movement tend to intersect on many values – not using products we don’t need, investing in quality items, and reducing over-consumption. This documentary focuses on two men, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, who decide to give up their cushy lives and reduce their possessions down to only those that are essential and give them joy. You will learn about the reasons behind their decision and how they advocate for other people to find happiness in owning less stuff.

Plastic Paradise, 2013

Highlighting our consumption of disposable items, Plastic Paradise looks at the impact plastic has on the Pacific Garbage Patch and surrounding areas. This movie will leave you feeling a little sick to your stomach at all the plastic ocean creatures consume and how it’s ending up in our food. It will also dispel some of the myths about a visible garbage patch that you can see from space and show you what a plastic filled ocean really looks like.

Sustainable, 2016

Ever wonder whether organic, sustainable agriculture is possible with our current population? Marty Travis looks in-depth at the problems with our current food system and its effects on our health. Interviewing organic farmers and agriculture innovators, this documentary gives viewers an idea of how our agriculture system can change for the better and still maintain our large population. This movie covers all kinds of agriculture including sustainable ways to raise animals for meat and dairy use.

Food, Inc., 2008

Food Inc. is an amazing documentary that is a must see to truly understand the impact our food has on the planet. With animals being grown in factories and chemicals dumped into produce, it’s important to know what is really in our food. This documentary takes a close look at the entire food chain from farm to table, and all the scary things hiding in between. Focusing on things like factory farming and giant food corporations, Food Inc. will give you an appreciation for buying local food and knowing who is putting the dinner on your table each night!

Before the Flood, 2016

Leonardo DiCaprio highlights brilliantly the problem of global warming and why we should be so worried about it. Although sometimes controversial for his “celebrity yet environmentalist” image, I believe that this movie brings must-needed attention to a serious problem we are facing in a way that the general population can follow. In this documentary, Leonardo visits with scientists and political leaders to understand exactly what issues global warming is causing. Although the movie ends on a positive note, it lacks a little in the area of what individuals can do now to effect change.

An Inconvenient Truth, 2006

One of the most widely recognized documentaries that focuses on climate change is An Inconvenient Truth featuring Al Gore. It follows his journey to raise awareness around global warming and how he himself learned about the issue. Combining footage pieces, narration, and clips from TEDtalks, it is a well-rounded look at what climate change is, why it is happening, and what it means for our future. This documentary stands out because of its ability to explain climate change so simplistically while still maintaining a scientific accuracy in its explanations. Please remember as you are watching it though that it is almost eleven years old so some of the information is a little out-dated.

“The Wish List”

There are also quite a few documentaries I would like to see but haven’t been able to see yet. Mostly I have been trapped to Netflix and my local library system for documentary resources! If you want to explore more of them though, I really recommend these ones too!

The Clean Pin Project

The Story of Stuff

Plastic China

No Impact Man

What’s on your must-watch list? Let me know if I'm missing out on some essentials!

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