Monday, 1 October 2012

Trashed! An evening in London with Jeremy Irons.

Jeremy Irons and producer Candida Brady 
introducing Trashed at London's Raindance Festival

My passion for waste reduction has taken me to many places, but Saturday was the first time it's ever landed me in a movie premiere in the heart of London.

But you can forget the red carpet on this occasion, even if the leading man was Jeremy Irons. For Saturday's movie was not some glitzy affair in Leicester Square,but an independent documentary, being screened as part of an independent film festival.

Trashed, featuring Jeremy Irons and produced by Blenheim Films, takes us on a journey around the world highlighting the issues with how our waste is managed.  It begins with the sobering sight of a rubbish dump on the coastline of Lebanon, discussing the effects of the pollutants from physical trash and leachate that spill into the Mediterranean, a serious international environmental problem.

Closer to home, the portrayal of dioxins from toxic waste sites and incinerators renders the UK's experience just as harsh viewing.  In one of the few countries in the world where waste management is so tightly controlled and where we have some of the best technology available, it is shocking to hear that even a modern incinerator in Scotland has breached emissions limits 172 times.  And that's only since 2009.

Thanks to the effects of emissions and leacheate, even if they appear to be tightly controlled, there seems to be very little escape from the consequences of burying or burning our rubbish.

And sadly, the images of villagers in a developing country throwing their rubbish into the river behind their homes, drinking water from that river, washing in it and eating the fish that they had caught from it, suddenly felt like a microcosm of the wider world within which we live.

It's truthful to say that Trashed, with its evidence of the amount of chemicals reaching our food chain, is very depressing viewing, not to mention the shocking images of fish and mammals that are physically injured by the debris floating in the sea.

To add a few figures to this, oceanographer Charles Moore highlights that there is now six times more plastic in the ocean than zooplankton, which form the very basis of the food chain.  And it's not the physical plastic that we can see that should only concern us, but more worryingly the material that we can't, i.e. the stuff that's so small it's easily absorbed, suppressing immune systems, hormones and reproductive systems.

With examples of whales being now so heavily contaminated that many can no longer reproduce, the documentary makers refer to the analogy of the canaries in a coal mine, a worrying prediction that what currently affects these mammals, will in the course of a few generations affect us.

I don't think any of us like to face harsh news like this, especially if we don't have the scientific background to make judgments for ourselves.  We can always believe that it is someone else's problem or that it doesn't matter to us, because we don't witness it or we won't be around to experience the sorry consequences. The problem may be seen as being too great for us to handle anyway. And the result? We just go about our everyday business, pushing it into the back of our minds, continuing life as normal.

But personally, even with the hard-to-swallow science, my own ignorance and how insignificant my own contribution is in this global picture, I welcome documentaries like Trashed.

It is better to know what we are up against, so we can mobilise human intelligence to more widely monitor, reinvent, better legislate, engineer solutions and develop new economies that reverse such trends, as well as place political pressure on those who have the power to influence international development.

Trashed gives a taster of some of the efforts that are already taking place to better manage, at the very least, Western approaches towards waste, including the San Francisco Zero Waste programme, where it is a legal requirement for every resident and visitor to participate in the recycling initiatives.  The documentary also featured a new approach to modern retail such as that promoted by Catherine Conway and her shop Unpackaged in London.  Even without such frameworks and facilities, Rachelle Strauss of demonstrated to Jeremy Irons, how as an individual we can take better care in choosing what we buy and vote with our wallets.

So rather than hide from this harsh tale, I would much prefer we stared it straight in the eye and committed to taking some form of action, whether it's through changing our shopping choices, recycling efforts or participating in a spot of activism.

So next time you hear that it's better to burn or bury our rubbish than fight for well managed and resourceful zero waste solutions, I'd like you to think of Trashed.  But don't take my word for it, watch the trailer.

Jeremy Irons not only makes such a powerful storyteller but having witnessed the issues first-hand, he believes that with the right support and backing from consumers, industry and governments the situation is indeed curable.


Trashed is being screened as part of London's indie film festival Raindance,and has been nominated for the Best Documentary Award.  It is being shown again, on Tuesday 2nd October at 3pm.  Another waste related film, being screened on Saturday 6th October, is the 10 minute short, Emptys.

If you are new to the idea of Zero Waste and want to know more about action that's being taken in the UK, follow and the Zero Waste Alliance UK (of which I am a trustee) for further news.


daphne said...

Wow this is cool. .Cheers!

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