It’s hard to hide from consumerism when the evidence is slowly accumulating in the garage. For that reason — and with olfactory concerns — most of us wouldn’t agree to do what the McDonalds did: keep every ounce of garbage they produced for three months.
The five-person suburban Toronto family, wrangled into the experiment by their filmmaker friend Andrew Nisker, stored their trash and recyclables in their garage during October, November, and December of 2005. Nisker filmed the endeavor, and the result is Garbage!
The Revolution Starts at Home — a short and not-so-sweet documentary that reminds us how the junk we unthinkingly toss away doesn’t just evaporate; it actually goes somewhere.
After some initial skepticism from husband Glen, the McDonalds are great sports — the parents tote disposable plates and forks home with them after parties, and the kids bring home their lunch leftovers for disposal in the household compost bin. All told, the family accumulated a whole lot of garbage over the course of 90 days (you’ll have to watch for yourself to find out the exact poundage). The McDonalds trashed as much stuff in December (holiday time) than they did in October and November combined.
Interspersed with the McDonalds’ human-interest tale are statistics and stories about garbage — how much of it we produce, what happens to it once it’s whisked away from our curbs, how it affects our health and homes, and how we could create less of it. I could have done with a bit less of this informational material; someone less painfully familiar with the life-cycle of trash may find it more absorbing.
Not surprisingly, the McDonalds took away some lessons from their experience, and made some lasting changes to help lessen their environmental impact. Most notably, they traded in their gas-guzzling SUVs for more fuel-efficient cars; they also learned to look for less packaging at the supermarket, and use re-useable cloth bags when they shop.
But the film is affecting more than just one family. So far, Garbage! has been screened for groups in Canada, the United States, and Europe; it is available for purchase online only, and post-screening discussion guides are available for local activists. After seeing the movie, New York entrepreneurs Eric Yaverbaum and Mark DiMassimo started their own organization, aimed at decreasing consumption of bottled water. Some Canadian schools have requested copies of Garbage! to show to students.
Nisker and his producers have created a Web site where visitors can read tips on lighter living, as well as submit their own home videos about topics as diverse as how they reduced their consumption of bottled water, and how they reduced holiday waste. The best of these will become Garbage! 2, a second film they’ll release after they sort out the trashy clips.
Buy the film or arrange a local screening at