This past Thursday night, the Weatherspoon Art Museum hosted a showing of the documentary “Racing to Zero.” As a part of UNCG’s Sustainability Film & Discussion Series, the event is geared towards lending a voice to the various environmental, sustainability and climate issues that affect us on a community to regional to global level. The program is the longest-running of its kind in the surrounding area. Each month features a screening of a new and relevant documentary, followed by a discussion on topics brought up in the film.
The session was led by Sarah Dorsey, music librarian at UNCG and sustainability advocate. Her introduction to the film was inspiring, connecting the need for environmental change to her own passionate motivation, and the motivation of many, to create change, both environmental and otherwise.
“Racing to Zero” is a recent film that documents the progress of an ambitious program in San Francisco, California: a program with the goal to eliminate 100 percent of all waste in the entire city by 2020.
Though it sounds like an impossible goal, the city is close to achieving it, with about 80 percent of garbage being either recycled or composted. Nationwide, it’s only a third.
Images of landfills and trash centers at the beginning of the film are sobering. Once your trash is collected, it is easy to assume that it’s gone. Out of sight, out of mind. However, the reality is that landfills are gargantua, and the environment is suffering. Though the topic is heavy, and the stakes are high, the film has a positive tone, and the focus is on the great progress the city has made thus far.
Many of the measures to improve recycling habits seem obvious: providing easy access to recycling bins, educating the public through events and flyers and encouraging donations to thrift organizations like Goodwill. But the film shows that it’s not easy. Many people just aren’t aware of how much can be composted or how to properly dispose of electronics, as shown through the film.
“Racing to Zero” provides a behind-the-scenes look at what happens to your waste, recycling and compost after it gets collected. The scenes of the collection centers are comparable, but aspects of the process are vastly different. Waste gets pushed into a landfill, and possibly burned. Recycling gets sorted, plastic melted and glass broken down, and sent to companies that will turn the glass into new bottles and the paper into new materials. Food scraps and compostable materials will be sent to farms, where the materials decompose with the help of worms, eventually turning into usable soil.
San Francisco’s use of recycled and compostable materials effectively achieve the goal: creating a “closed-loop” system. In a perfect closed-loop system, the same glass bottle will be recycled, made into a new bottle, sold and used, and then recycled again. This way, no waste is created, and the process is efficient.
After receiving compost at farms on the outskirts of San Francisco, farmers can turn the composting materials into usable soil, which they can use to grow food for themselves and to sell. In a perfect world, or perhaps city, all waste-management will be on a closed-loop system, and there will be no waste.
This film offers an enlightening way to confront the realities of landfills and waste management in America while educating on the simplicity and effectiveness of multiple solutions. According to the film, a zero-waste initiative is one of the fastest, cheapest and most effective strategies to protect the climate.
The next informative and thought-provoking documentary screening for the UNCG Sustainability Film & Discussion Series is on February 23. To be featured is the film “The Landfill Harmonic,” which follows a musical group of the same name that plays instruments entirely made out of garbage.