HOT DOCS Review: Garbage! The Revolution Starts at Home

I polished off a bag of store-bought chocolate chip cookies before I sat down to write this, but it was hard to enjoy that last bite. The packaging the cookies came in (a combination of a plastic tray, to keep the cookies from crumbling, and a glossy paper bag) could not be recycled, so I was forced to put it into the regular trash bin. Having just watched the documentary, Garbage! The Revolution Starts at Home, I feel a lot more guilty about this than I normally would. All I can think about is Mary Bradford in Michigan who sees — and feels — about 260 dump trucks race by her home each day. “Our house actually shakes,” she says.

Garbage! forces viewers to reevaluate their “out of sight out of mind” lifestyles. In fact, the documentary turns this familiar saying on its head by convincing the McDonalds — a family of five from Toronto with a diaper-wearing baby, a kitty-litter-using cat, two SUVs, and a fondness for conveniences such as juice boxes and paper plates — to keep their garbage in their garage for three months. As the bags fill up, director Andrew Nisker visits Toronto’s green bin and recycling processing facilities, as well as Huron County, Michigan, where our garbage is currently sent. Nisker also starts asking questions about the other kinds of waste we produce, including air pollution from cars and coal-burning plants and water pollution from road runoff and sewers. His inquisitiveness takes him to west Virginia, where mountain tops are blown off to mine coal to produce our energy, and, closer to home, the Don River, where polluted water run off and sewage freely flow.

In the end, you’re left feeling ultra-aware that every bit of waste we produce has a consequence. I can visualize the containers from my last take out meal traveling on a truck to Michigan, picture the plastic bags that contain the food scraps from my green bin being separated from their contents in a big vat of smelly sludge. And I now know what happens to cars when they die. As both Toronto and the Province strive reduce the amount or waste we send to the landfill, this is a film worth watching for anyone still looking for an extra kick in the pants to make the changes necessary to live a life with considerably less trash.

Garbage! The Revolution Starts at Home  plays at 9:00pm tonight at the Al Green Theatre.


  1. I can’t tell you how much I hate those plastic trays. #*)(@$ ! I wish they would go back to using the old paper accordion type.

    BTW, I recycle those glossy bags. Or at least they are always picked up. IIRC, a few years ago the added the ability to recycle glossy papers (clay coated).

  2. Are there any plans on showing the documentary on TV? or playing it in theatres? so that more people have an opportunity to see it?

  3. This film was a bit all over the map and lacked any sort of unifying message at the end. The subjects seemed to have learned nothing for their troubles. Maybe that was the real point in a way. great concept, poor execution.

  4. Maria>

    I went to the movie’s website (links are provided in the article above), and it looks like it’ll be shown far and wide. You can sign up to a mailing list to be notified of screenings near you, you can buy a copy of the DVD, and it looks like there are other options as well.

  5. I thought Toronto stopped sending garbage to Michigan last year. Don’t we now send it to a dump outside St. Thomas, Ontario?

  6. The long-term plan is definitely to switch from Carlton Farms in Michigan to Green Lane in the London area (from one bucolically-named dump to another). The Green Lane purchase happened last year but I believe it’s a gradual transition with most trash still going to Carlton Farms at this point. The Carlton Farms contract ends in 2010, so the switchover must be complete by then.

  7. While I certainly think the ’embrace your waste’ message was apt and well-communicated, I agree with scott in that the movie lacked some more forceful or original message. If getting rid of SUVs and using cloth bags are ‘revolutionary’ in 2008 we may unfortunately still have a long way to go. It may have been a decent ‘extra kick in the pants’, but I was hoping for much more.

  8. This movie is too long, and repeats the same thing over and over again of “don’t garbage, don’t waste, this is bad and that is bad.” And the lazy filmmaker doesn’t even provide solutions to the problem. Overall, too long, windy, boring and pointless. It could’ve been cut to a 45-minute film.

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