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5 Environmental Documentaries that Inspire Us to Recycle

Below is a guest post by Jared Hill, a Chicago-based writer that specializes in technology, environment, energy, health and sports. Please follow him on Twitter @JaredHill341.

Our relationship with trash has never really been harmonious, especially when you consider the environmental impact of discarded materials that stay with us for generations. While this is certainly an important topic worthy of a documentary film, in order to drive the message home, a truly effective documentary needs to be thought-provoking, entertaining and, most importantly, inspiring.

Here are five environmental documentaries focusing on our relationship with trash that effectively combine all three of those elements:

Garbage Dreams (2009)
environmental documentaries

Produced and directed by Mai Iskander, Garbage Dreams follows three teenage boys who are growing up in a large village outside of Cairo, Egypt, with a unique quality—its inhabitants survive by recycling roughly 80% of the garbage they collect.

In this case, people of the village are using the abundance of trash to earn money to survive by recycling, so they are literally dependent upon people’s tendency to discard their trash with no further thought to where it may end up.

Racing to Zero (2014)

Directed by Christopher Beaver, Racing to Zero presents an in-depth look at innovative solutions for dealing with waste. The film follows the Zero Waste manager of San Francisco during his daily duties to achieve the goal suggested by his job title. It puts a positive spin on excessive waste by viewing garage as a resource.

It presents a refreshing change of pace by illustrating the implementation of practical solutions that appear to be working.

Waste Land (2010)

environmental documentaries

Waste Land, an Oscar-nominated film directed by Lucy Walker, tells the story of an artist who travels to the world’s largest landfill, located outside of Rio in Brazil. He transforms the “trash” he finds into contemporary art.

He takes his art to an auction house in hopes of improving life for the “pickers” who collect the garbage found in that landfill and the people living in the surrounding communities. It’s stories like this that can inspire others to take similar actions, albeit on a smaller scale.

Landfill Harmonic (2014)

Directed by Brad Allgood and Graham Townsley, Landfill Harmonic provides a closer look at the lives of a music teacher who has found a creative use for the all the garbage people discard in a slum in Paraguay that was built on a landfill. The teacher and a group of children from the community put together an orchestra made out of recycled materials—and end up touring the world.

Proving that inspirational stories tend to have more of an impact, films like this can foster other out-of-the-box thinkers to look at trash in a new way while doing something positive for the planet at the same time.

Inside the Garbage of the World (2014)

The growth of the world’s population. Economies driven by profits and capitalism. Industrialization of our everyday lives. Rabid materialism. These are just some of the topics covered in Inside the Garbage of the World, a documentary designed to clearly show how much of an impact humans have had on the planet over the past one hundred years.

For people who need to have cold hard facts presented in a way that’s attention-grabbing, this well-produced documentary presents plenty of stunning statistics in a way that’s gripping, well-organized, informative and, ultimately, inspirational.

With 14 million tons of food waste generated each year alone, it’s clear that our collective relationship with garbage tends to be rather one-sided. However, by making better choices with our trash, we would be able to reduce our carbon footprint, save energy, and conserve natural resources. These environmental documentaries provide very compelling reasons to create a more balanced relationship with our daily discards—an effort that just about anybody can be a part of by simply making it a habit to recycle whenever possible.

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