A list of zero waste documentaries

5 zero waste documentaries to watch during COVID-19 lock-down

Zero waste is getting a beating during the COVID-19 pandemic with stores closing bulk isles and banning you from bringing your own grocery bags.

A list of zero waste documentaries
Photo by Mollie Sivaram on Unsplash

Let’s use the time being stuck at home to virtually spread the movement so that we can come back out in full force once some of the stay-at-home orders are lifted.

Here’s a list of documentaries and short clips to remind ourselves why plastic should only be used in very limited cases (such as life saving personal protection equipment [PPE]) and otherwise avoided at all cost.

The coronavirus pandemic might have a short-term beneficial side effect for the climate thanks to lower emissions from reduced economic activity.

But all the plastic we’re consuming in the hope to protect ourselves from the virus will still be around hundreds of years from now. Sorry to be adding to the bad news!

Watch these zero waste movies during the coronavirus (COVID-19) stay-at-home order

1. Plastic Wars

Where to Stream | On PBS’ website or on YouTube (both free)
Length | 53 minutes

Hot off the reel, this documentary from PBS and NPR is frankly quite shocking, and also more topical than ever.

Watch Plastic Wars the full film for free on YouTube

For decades, Americans have been sorting their trash believing that most plastic could be recycled. But the truth is, the vast majority of all plastic produced can’t be or won’t be recycled. In 40 years, less than 10% of plastic has ever been recycled.

This investigative documentary found that oil and gas companies — the makers of plastic — have known that all along, even as they spent millions of dollars telling the American public the opposite.

With oil prices plummeting to an historic low, the industry will keep pushing plastic as a way to find buyers for their surplus oil.

2. 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

A British take on the problem – in this three-part series, BBC reporters Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Anita Rani challenge big industry, politicians and consumers alike about what changes we can make to avoid plastic waste.

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

Similar to Plastic Wars above, it 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.

3. Bag It

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

Somewhat ahead of its time (“Bag It” was released in 2010), Jeb Berrier, a regular American man, makes a pledge to stop using plastic bags at the grocery store.

What starts as a film about plastic bags turns into a thorough investigation into plastic and its impact on our rivers, oceans and even our bodies.

The film is a little more lighthearted (while shocking at the same time) and won numerous awards at independent film festivals across the US.

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

Where to Stream | YouTube
Length | 15 minutes

Bea Johnson is a spearhead of the global zero waste movement. A French woman living in the US, her book, “Zero Waste Home” was published in 2013 and is considered (at least by myself ;-)) as the bible of zero waste.

In this Ted Talk Bea explains how she and her family produce less than a quart jar of waste per year, and how pursuing zero waste has simplified her life.

It’s also a great introduction to the 5R’s of zero waste in case you’re not yet familiar with them: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Rot.

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 Trump coronavirus briefings to brighten up your day.

5. No Impact Man

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

If Bea Johnson’s lifestyle seems a little too “perfect” and somewhat unattainable, then this documentary shows the complete opposite: No Impact Man, a.k.a. author Colin Beavan, goes completely “green,” giving up literally all of the comforts of modern life for one year.

No electricity, no gas-powered transportation, no shipped food and no trash collection – all in an effort to drastically curb his environmental impact. It’s messy, complicated, and fun!

The camera captures how Beavan’s wife and baby daughter react to this well-intended, year-long project takes, and how the family pulls together to make it happen.

Bonus: 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

I’ve added this one to the list as a bonus.

While it’s technically not a film about zero waste, it might resonate very well with all of us during these strange times.

We’re all missing everyday things we took for granted (seeing people in real life, patting puppies in the street, eating at our favorite pizza place at least once a week…). And there’s a danger of filling this void with… ONLINE SHOPPING.

Filling up that closet that we’ve just cleaned out, replacing the garbage bags waiting to be taken to the thrift store once the stay-at-home orders are lifted, with more… GARBAGE.

The realization that more things don’t necessarily bring more happiness is the premise of this documentary.

And it soon becomes clear why our 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, not more.

Enjoy these 466 minutes of zero waste documentaries during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) shelter-in-place

I hope this list of zero waste documentaries will help get you through the isolation. After all, similar to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re all in this plastic problem together.

Let me know in the comments how you liked the films, and if you’ve found any that should be added to the list! Cheers, Bettina

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