Last night, Jeremy Irons presented a new documentary he’s narrated at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s theatre. Trashed is a global look at how our use of the waste stream — and especially plastics — has affected the land, air, and water. For scholars of waste, the film isn’t a huge revelation. Indeed, the summary I just gave sounds not all that far removed from the thesis of Joel Tarr’s 1996 book The Search for the Ultimate Sink. And we may quibble about various points in the film, from a simple look at recycling to a lack of discussion of cradle to cradle design solutions to minimize waste.
Those, though, are quibbles about an otherwise impressive accomplishment. The film presents an accessible narrative of the real threats to human and environmental health from our out-of-sight, out-of-mind waste disposal patterns. It presents a conversation of how we can change our cultural patterns and infrastructure for more sustainable practices. It does so with production values and a celebrity narrator who have the potential to reach a far wider audience than most scholars do. As I mentioned to Mr. Irons, while I’m glad to have the Encyclopedia of Consumption and Waste: The Social Science of Garbage available to interested readers to learn more about the waste stream, this film will be seen by many more people than who will ever read it. Getting the general public aware of the consequences of waste is crucial to devoting the effort and resources necessary to create those more sustainable practices.
The film has limited screenings, but anyone reading this post can see the film. It begins streaming over the net today. Click the link at the previous sentence to watch.
Today is Earth Day. Historian Adam Rome has a new book out about the history of Earth Day, characterizing it as an event that galvanized a disparate group of people with shared concerns, if not up to that point shared organization. A result was a more coherent environmental movement in 1970. In the United States, we have seen limits to action created by that organization (and a retrogressive pushback that has unfortunately transformed the Republican Party from an active agent in environmental protection to a force bent on endangering American citizens and ecosystems to the benefit of few). Sharing Trashed with casual fans of Jeremy Irons or Vangelis, or to friends and neighbors, is an excellent way to continue the inclusive spirit of Earth Day. Discussing our present concerns, future challenges, and future opportunities is utterly in keeping with the conversations women’s groups, college students, workers, scientists, suburbanites, Gaylord Nelson and all those who gathered 43 years ago did on the first Earth Day.