Until three years ago I, like most people, was blissfully unaware of the damage to our health and environment that the trash produced by our consumer society was causing. It was only when director Candida Brady suggested to me that this problem should be the subject of a documentary film, and began to share with me her research, that I began to understand the magnitude of what to most people remains invisible. While filming what became the documentary Trashed, we traveled much of the world to record the effects of different societies’ attempts to get rid of its garbage, whether by burning it, burying it, dumping it in the water, or just ignoring it. The evidence was startling, and I soon realized that the massive growth since World War II of global production, consumerism, and its attendant prosperity, for many, had come at a price. As we gloried in our inventiveness and ingenuity at converting the earth’s resources into products that made life easier and more enjoyable for so many, it seems we had not addressed the problem of sustaining and truly valuing our world’s inevitably finite resources. The health of our air, of our ground water, and of our oceans was something that we assumed nature, in her generous way, would take care of for us. But it became increasingly clear that while nature will take care of herself by adapting, those adaptations might not be to our liking. It is no skin off her nose if sea levels rise, if the weather becomes more violent, if the seasons change, even if the human race becomes sicker, hungrier, thirstier, or even extinct. She will continue on regardless. I hope we are nearing the end of what I have come to recognize as our consumer adolescence—seventy years during which we have run riot with our newly discovered abilities without having yet learned the responsibilities that these newfound powers incur. Only when we reach maturity do we begin to think of our children and grandchildren, and of the world we are responsible for passing on to them. It is the burgeoning of this more mature attitude that has given me such hope as I have traveled presenting Trashed to audiences worldwide. It has become clear to me there is a huge body of people committed to protecting our health and our environment, and to doing what is necessary to deal with the mountains of trash that we waste. But it has also become clear to me that such behavior needs continuing personal effort. Individuals need to make daily decisions to separate their garbage intelligently, and pressure their


the zero waste solution

government representatives to put a collection system in place that will allow their trash to be turned into compost or reused in future production. Our governments also, both local and national, must play their part by putting systems in place so that our trash can become an economic resource, rather than simply a problem. And they must be held accountable if they try to convince us that burning it will produce cheap electricity, and burying it will provide cheap gas. It takes twenty-six times more energy to incinerate the ubiquitous plastic water bottle than it takes to produce one in the first place. That to me seems like waste, not “waste to energy.” Industry also needs to become more transparent and to play its part, and there are heartening examples of this beginning to happen. Many responsible companies are investing to find ways of producing goods without relying on toxic chemicals. They are also allowing their products to be returned when no longer in use, so that the precious metals and other components can reused in new products. But it is you and I who can help encourage this attitude, starting with ensuring that what we buy is recyclable and has been produced in a sustainable way. The market is us, and if we demand certain things and certain behaviour from the manufacturing industry, then it will be very much to its advantage to comply. First of all, though, we need to understand fully the problems that our garbage creates. And then we need to learn the solutions for dealing with those problems from the people who have researched them. And this is where Paul Connett’s remarkable book becomes invaluable. Paul is perhaps the world expert on the problems and solutions of garbage reduction and reuse, and his book and its contained wisdom will, I hope, become compulsory reading for anyone whose home is threatened by plans to build incinerators, or to site landfills, or who cares about leaving this world in a fit state for future generations. I am enormously grateful for his help with Trashed, and to his ceaseless efforts to keep the subject of garbage and the wasting of the world’s resources higher on the agenda than it otherwise might be. Jeremy Irons

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