A good documentary has the power to make you look at the world differently, and if it’s really impactful, might change the way you live your life. Case in point: Sustainability documentaries—like ones that educate viewers about the global effects of excessive trash and waste. Watch one stellar documentary about the importance of sustainability, and we can pretty much guarantee you’ll start thinking twice about all the stuff you throw away in a day.
To prove our point, we rounded up a few of the best documentaries about waste and living a more sustainable lifestyle. From an animated short to a film about landfills, here are eight documentary films that will force anyone to watch their waste.
We’ve included links to places online where you can stream these films as part of a subscription or for a small rental fee—one less DVD on the shelf.
1. The True Cost
Ever wondered how certain “fast fashion” retailers are able to sell their merchandise for so cheap? The True Cost explores the impact of fashion on people and the planet, and more specifically, the real price of inexpensive clothing. With interviews from the likes of fashion designer Stella McCartney and scholar Vandana Shiva, The True Cost will have you thinking twice about where to go on your next shopping spree.
Where to Watch: Netflix
2. No Impact Man
Sometimes, a documentary film does more than just educate its audience; it inspires them, too. Such is the case for No Impact Man, which follows the NYC-based Beavan family as they abandon their high consumption 5th Avenue lifestyle and try to live a year while making no net environmental impact. It’s a moving and inspirational film to say the least.
Believe it or not, there’s a fast-growing business behind all of our gross old garbage, and Trashed is here to explore it. Lead by actor Jeremy Irons, Trashed takes viewers to landfills and trash dumps in beautiful locations around world to show the devastating effects of pollution—no wonder it was an official selection at the Cannes Film Festival.
4. The Story of Stuff
Stuff: Can’t live without it, but too much of it might also be our (and the environment’s) demise. Shown in thousands of classrooms and viewed over 40 million times, The Story of Stuff is garbage activist Annie Leonard’s 21-minute animated documentary short about, well, the stuff we use and throw away (and probably don’t need in the first place). Unsurprisingly, the film has spawned an entire movement (and many more films) inspiring viewers to think twice about the stuff they really need.
Where to Watch: YouTube
5. The Clean Bin Project
In an attempt to see if they can really live a “waste-free” life, partners Jen and Grant challenge each other to see who can swear off consumerism and produce the least amount of garbage in an entire year. The Clean Bin Project follows the couple’s battle to reduce their everyday waste, while tackling the tough topic of waste consumption with humor and grace.
Where to Watch: Vimeo
6. Plastic Paradise
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch: If you weren’t already familiar with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (aka “Trash Island”) then now’s the time to listen up. In her film, Plastic Paradise: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, journalist Angela Sun travels thousands of miles away from civilization, into the North Pacific Ocean, for a close-up look at the massive garbage mass—which is twice the size of Texas and comprised almost entirely of plastic debris and pollutants.
7. Just Eat It!
Did you know Americans throw nearly half of all the food they pay for away in the trash every year? Directed by partners Jen and Grant (the pair that brought us The Clean Bin Project), Just Eat It! is all about our societal obsession with food, and more alarmingly, the amount of it we throw away.
8. Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things
Sometimes, the key to living a less wasteful life is as simple as prioritizing the stuff that actually matters. Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things explores the ways in which our lives can be improved by living with less stuff—ultimately, bettering both the quality of our lives and the environment we live in.
Where to Watch: Netflix
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