Trashed: it starts (and ends) with us

What if not recycling was seen to be as socially unacceptable as drunk driving, smoking indoors, or not wearing your seatbelt?

What if bringing your own container to the grocery store became the new norm?

What if recycling something was as habitual and common practice as throwing something away?

Obviously we’d be living in a much cleaner, healthier and more efficient world. But what exactly does that mean? These questions are answered by the 2012 documentary “Trashed,” which explains the growing problem of consumer and industrial waste that our planet faces.

On April 22, Earth Day, the UIUC Students for Environmental Concerns and Lambda Theta Phi, Inc. hosted a screening of “Trashed,” the award-winning documentary about the issue of waste, followed by a panel discussion with University of Illinois faculty and administration, including Bart Bartels, zero-waste coordinator at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, Professor Zsuzsa Gille of the Department of Sociology, and Professor Ann Reisner of the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Science and the College of Media and Cinema Studies.

“Trashed” is an eye-opening film for anyone who’s not really sure how much waste our planet truly creates. Spoiler alert: it’s a lot. This film gives both the facts as well as a solution proposed by actor and the film’s maker, Jeremy Irons.

It opens with a scene in Lebanon, where they’ve resorted to dumping their trash on beaches that once could have been enjoyed for sunbathing. Now, the beaches surrounded by beautiful blue water have been resorted to a landfill, overflowing with plastic, food waste, and toxic fluids that seep into the ground below.

Looking at this picture, one can only think: is this what we’re all coming to?

We don’t really understand the amount of waste that we create until we see it. But it’s not something that people want to think about. As I watched this film, I was amazed by the statistics that I heard and the images that I saw.

For example, every person living today has dioxins (highly toxic compounds) inside their bodies at some concentration level. Dioxins are environmental pollutants that enter our bodies mainly when we intake food that is also polluted. And the human body can’t get rid of them naturally, which means they stay in your body for a long time and can have effects even at low concentrations.

Yet, we still only recycle 33% of our waste.

“Trashed” makes the consequences and the facts plain. But the solution it proposes is where it gets tricky. The film ends on a much happier note than the horrific scenes that it opened with. It shows how things can get better if we stop ignoring this problem. It ends with a rallying cry that sounds familiar: if we all do our part individually, things will get better.

After the screening, Professor Gille voiced her concern with this solution, stating that she is skeptical of the diagnosis and the solution it tries to promote – the one against the many.

In agreement with that statement was Professor Reisner, who said: “Nothing’s going to work unless we get government behind us.”

Professor Ann Reisner speaking at the panel after the "Trashed" screening.
Professor Ann Reisner speaking at the panel after the “Trashed” screening.

Yet the point of this film was mainly to educate, and that it did. It’s a problem we truly can’t ignore. You can’t ignore the landfills that are filling up faster than we can control them, the wildlife that is being harmed both internally and externally by our waste, the human health defects that pollutants are causing, and the beautiful landscapes and oceans that are full more with trash than life.

“Our stupidity was well documented,” Bartels said. That, in essence, is what sums up this film. And that, I believe, was the goal that the filmmakers achieved.