Which zero waste documentaries to watch over the holidays

The best zero waste documentaries to watch over the holidays

Nowadays, binge-eating and binge-drinking is usually followed by binge-watching movies on TV during the holidays. So if you’re sick of Elf, Frozen I & II, and Home Alone, or would just like to use the time a little more sensibly: Here’s a list of documentaries and short clips for the conscious consumer that will hopefully kick your a** and convince you to set some strict zero waste resolutions for the New Year.

Which zero waste documentaries to watch over the holidays

Photo by Pablo García Saldaña on Unsplash

1. Start with the “Why” – best documentaries to boost your zero waste motivation

Ultimately, all environmental efforts – avoiding waste, reducing green house gas emissions, protecting natural habitats – have one single purpose in common: to save our beautiful planet. Here’s a selection of movies that show mother Earth in all its glory:

Our Planet

Where To Stream | Netflix
Length | Eight 50-minute episodes

From the makers of “Planet Earth”, this Emmy-nominated Netflix original series features breathtaking nature cinematography, paired with Sir David Attenborough’s soothing but increasingly alarming voice. “Our Planet” shows everything from wildebeests in the Serengeti and orangutans in the jungle to footage of forests and the deep, dark ocean – together with the impact climate change would have on all those beautiful living creatures and their habitats.

Watch the Our Planet trailer here:

Before the Flood

Where To Stream | Netflix (free with subscription) or rent / buy via any of your trusted streaming providers
Length | 1h 36m

If you’d like a bit more eye candy than just David Attenborough (sorry!) then this one is for you – produced together with National Geographic, this documentary is fronted by Leonardo DiCaprio. It also features Pope Francis (not sure about eye candy here…), Elon Musk (he doesn’t swear in this one), and Barack Obama (yeay!) among others. Leo travels the globe (not on the Titanic, luckily) to better understand climate change and what it’s doing to our paradise called Earth.

Here’s the trailer:

2. Learn about the “What” – documentaries about the worst zero waste offenders

There are so many contradictory facts out there, about which industries are the most harmful or most waste producing, and what each of us should do / not do / scrap to limit our personal impact. I’ve chosen two culprits that regularly make the top five of the “worst offenders” lists (and that are at the core of this blog): plastic waste and food waste.

War on Plastic

Where to Stream | BBC (currently only available on iPlayer in the UK, but if you google it, you may be lucky to find another source…)
Length | Three 58-minute episodes

Every minute of every day, the equivalent of a garbage truck full of plastic is emptied into the world’s oceans. In this three-part series, BBC reporters Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Anita Rani explore where this gigantic problem is coming from, and what we can all do to try and solve it.

The series is very thorough in that it challenges big industry, politicians and us consumers about what changes we can make to avoid plastic waste.

My personal favorite is that the series also dispels the myth of recycling being a solution to the problem, and highlights that it’s the global oil and gas fracking industry who’s pushing the production of cheap plastic while externalizing the cost of the waste problem onto the rest of the world.

Bag It!

Where to Stream | Curiosity Stream on Amazon Prime (you can activate a 7-day free trial)
Length | 54 minutes

While “War on Plastic” is a BBC production with a clear focus on the UK, this one is the US-american equivalent. Ahead of its time (it was released in 2010), Jeb Berrier, a regular American man, makes a pledge to stop using plastic bags at the grocery store and has his life completely changed.

What starts as a film about plastic bags evolves into a extensive investigation into plastic and its effect on our waterways, oceans and even our bodies.

The film is really quite funny (while shocking at the same time) and won numerous awards at indy film festivals across the US.

Wasted! The Story of Food Waste

Where to Stream | Rent or buy on Amazon Prime, YouTube or Google Play
Length | 85 minutes

Forty percent of food produced in the United States isn’t eaten, but gets thrown away. This waste costs $1 trillion a year, with the average American family throwing $1,500 worth of food in the garbage annually. Globally, 1.3 billion tons of food gets thrown out each year.

Produced by celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, “Wasted!” presents lots of astonishing and shocking facts about food waste, but only dwells on them long enough to establish the urgency of the problem. The documentary then takes you on a foody tour around the world, showing the people who are fighting hardest to avoid food waste, and how satisfying their solutions are.

3. Start acting with the “How” – inspiring documentaries about zero waste pioneers

We get the why, we’ve learned about the what, now let’s start to act! (sorry for the accidental cheesy rhyme here…). This last section is about the eco pioneers who lead zero waste lives, or have made changes to the way they live, to limit their impact on the environment. Of course I couldn’t help but start with…

Two adults, two kids, zero waste | Bea Johnson’s zero waste Ted Talk

Where to Stream | YouTube
Length | 15 minutes

Bea Johnson is the godmother of the global zero waste movement. In this Ted Talk she reveals how she and her family produce less than one quart of waste per year, and how living simply has changed her life for the better. OK, I admit it’s not a documentary, but it just had to make the list – it’s only 15 minutes so you can watch it in-between two boxes of mince pies.

Her talk is a great introduction to the 5R’s: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot. Bea shatters misconceptions, proving that zero waste can not only be “stylish,” but also lead to significant health benefits, and time and money savings.

No Impact Man

Where to Stream | Rent or buy on Amazon Prime, YouTube or Google Play
Length | 92 minutes

If you feel that Bea Johnson’s Ted Talk is a little too polished and her lifestyle seems unattainable, then this documentary is the complete opposite: it’s messy, complicated, and funny. No Impact Man, a.k.a. author Colin Beavan, goes completely “green,” giving up literally all of the comforts of modern living – electricity, gas-powered transportation, shipped food and public waste disposal – in a drastic effort to curb his environmental impact.

The cameras capture the toll this well-intended, year-long project takes on Beavan’s wife and baby daughter, as well as the ways it brings this family closer together.

The Game Changers

Where to Stream | Netflix, or rent or buy from your trusted streaming provider of choice
Length | 85 minutes

This one is a bit of an odd one out, as it’s not directly about zero waste or waste avoidance. But in relation to food waste, it’s just a great documentary if you’re considering lowering your meat intake or going vegetarian or vegan completely.

Only mentioning the devastating effect of meat production on the environment in passing, the film instead focuses on the latest scientific evidence for the benefits of a plat based diet.

It’s executive produced by James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jackie Chan, Lewis Hamilton and Novak Djokovic – and features them and many more elite athletes. How much more convincing do you need?

Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things

Where to Stream | Netflix, or rent or buy from your trusted streaming provider of choice
Length | 78 minutes

The realization that more things don’t necessarily bring more happiness probably isn’t a new one for you. But if you’ve just returned from the Boxing Day or post-Christmas sales with 17 bags , then this award-winning film might help to finally cure your shopaholicism (not sure if such a word exists – you know what I mean).

And while it’s not a film about zero waste, it soon becomes clear why the modern world’s excessive, materialistic consumerism is one of the root causes of all this trash. This close-up look at minimalism explores the virtues of having less – and I trust you’re clever enough to put the two together yourself.

Happy zero waste documentary watching!

I hope you like this list of viewing suggestions for zero waste inspired documentaries. Let me know in the comments what you thought of the films, or if I’ve missed any that should be added! Cheers, Bettina

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