Disposable products take on a life of momentous proportion in Trashed. The documentary’s first scenes feature narrator Jeremy Irons wandering through a heaping, open garbage dump in Beirut that produces 80 tonnes of waste per day, making it clear that this story is yet another harsh reality check. The world is filled with unprecedented amounts of trash, and we have the garbage mountains and ocean gyres to prove it.
Sheer volume is not the only issue. “The waste stream has become regrettably more toxic; we’ve seen increasing levels of heavy metals, radioactive substances, synthetic plastics,” says one of the interviewed experts, Vyvyan Howard, professor of Bioimaging at Ireland’s University of Ulster. “If you want to look at a modern waste, you have to be very careful because it can be quite poisonous.”
Trashed highlights how governments and environmental protection agencies have failed to guard people from their waste, as well as the futile attempts to contain its toxicity. Grassroots groups are pushing for safer solutions than landfills and incinerators, but the waste management business is quite lucrative, and with that comes infinite funding for dubious studies – including one that deems cancer clusters in proximity to a faulty dioxin-emitting incinerator as statistically insignificant. The film rebuffs such claims with scenes of Vietnamese children with birth defects in formaldehyde-filled jars, all exposed to staggering dioxin concentrations left behind by Agent Orange.
Irons also takes a tour of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch with captain Charles Moore, an oceanic researcher who explains that the Pacific contains six times more plastic than plankton by weight. Such revelations lend profundity to Irons’ observation that our throwaway society turns “treasure into trash.”
Throughout the documentary, the saturated colour of junked objects is stunning in the eeriest of ways. And although Trashed is visually arresting, its conclusion fizzles by comparison. The compulsory ray of hope at the end of the dark tunnel consists of soothing images set to a smooth tune. Irons offers solutions such as industrial biodigestion and using less packaging, but these seem a bit tacked on. Nevertheless, the takeaway message is clear: We already have too much trash to deal with, and we continue to waste too much.
Trashed, directed by Candida Brady, UK: Blenheim Films, 2012, 97 minutes