13 Zero Waste Documentaries You Need To Watch NOW!

Would you consider yourself an avid reader or would you rather watch an eye-catching film? How about a weekend spent with a marathon of zero waste documentaries that can inform and inspire you? Perhaps even leaving you with the urge to help save the planet.

Many people wonder "what is zero waste", but spending a few hours watching any of the following sustainability documentaries is a great way to learn about the movement.

Sustainability documentaries cover everything from what it means to achieve a circular economy to the ways the plastic problem distracts us from other things like increasing biodiversity.

With us learning more about the environmental movement, you’ll be well equipped to then start your own low-waste lifestyle, differentiate between beauty products by knowing the materials, how it’s made, how it’s disposed of, and so on. 

Soon enough you’ll be laying comfy on your eco-friendly couch watching all your favorite zero-waste docs and series.

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1. Wasted!

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Image: Wasted

What really happens to food waste when it ends up in our landfills? Wasted is a superb documentary written by Anthony Bourdain that gives you a vivid breakdown of the issue. There are so many other questions about how composting can help or if there are other ways to minimize food ending up in our landfills, keeping in mind that you can compost some things but not others.

But what are the real problems and causes of food waste? This food waste documentary is giving you the tools needed to change your habits rather than to produce less food waste. On top of that if you are a foodie or someone who enjoys cooking it provides you with some fascinating tips and tricks for experimenting with your culinary skills. It leaves us wondering how we can make a positive impact and be mindful of our waste in our daily lifestyle.

2. Tapped

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Tapped is an interesting documentary that gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the unregulated and unseen world. It shows us that the bottled water industry is an ecological and consumer nightmare. From the plastic production to the ocean is where many of these bottles end up. This documentary shows us the path of the bottled water industry and the unaware communities that are involved.

It’s not easy to get rid of the big corporations but the documentary shows us how government regulations have failed us from time to time making us feel we don’t have any other choice. By showing how we have all contributed to these environmental problems, the documentary empowers us and provides us with concrete information on how we can all be a part of the solution. And we've put together this guide to the best eco-friendly water bottles.

3. Broken

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Image: Netflix

Broken teaches us that 21st-century consumerism has been making dangerous products. This zero waste documentary present how much the counterfeit makeup market thrives, and how these knock-offs contain ingredients that are toxic to consumers. In the sustainability film, Ikea is a perfect example since they are known to mostly make cheap furniture. Something we don’t consider as often as we should.

The documentary shared bits and pieces about the plastic crisis and gives us more insight into our recycling. There is something very interesting to note about China shutting down foreign imports of plastic in 2018. The surplus exploded due to the pollution caused by recycling plants both legal and illegal. Then what happens to the remaining plastic you ask? We recommend that you watch it to see for yourself.

4. Minimalism

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Minimalism is the perfect example of only having what you need the most. This documentary shares the many aspects of the growing a minimal mindset that is challenging compulsory consumerism and seeking a different path. The authors of minimalism, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus share about a road trip that reveals the core ideas behind minimalism and along their journey, they meet people who share their transformational stories. 

Millburn and Nicodemus are friends from college and both work in corporate offices experiencing that lavish lifestyle but only to find that it never really brought them happiness. These friends faced a personal breaking point that diverted them away from the consumer lifestyle. The documentary explores the ways that different people such as architects, designers, musicians, businessmen, authors, and families are now involved and attempting to go slow by having a meaningful life with only the simple things.

5. No Impact Man

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Colin Beavan is the main persona in the sustainability film, No Impact Man. He is a New York blogger and environmentalist that came up with a not-so-popular idea to document his "low waste lifestyle". In the film, it would involve no driving, no TV, no buying anything new, no unnecessary packaging, no electricity, and no toilet paper. Luckily for Beavan, he had his family join him.

Viewers had the chance to see how the family copes with the constant stress and intermittent crises of such a rigorous way of living.  The goal of the documentary was simply to call attention to the high maintenance costs of the contemporary affluent American lifestyle. Overall it tells the story of author Colin Beavan, who went completely green, giving up on all of the comforts of modern living in a drastic effort to curb his environmental impact.

6. The Story of Stuff

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For most of the world, consumption has been the unquestioned duty of every individual. Annie Leonard, the author, and host of the online film, The Story of Stuff exposes the hidden environmental and social costs of our current systems of production and consumption. The doc became very popular and has been used by faith-based communities, environmental organizations, and local governments to generate dialogue on the important environmental and social issues of the day. 

Leanard spins out an incredible story of what goes into a simple cotton T-Shirt that seems like such a great piece of clothing. She suggests purchasing organic and fair trade cotton products or wearing the one you have until it fades away into a cloth you can use for cleaning other “stuff” in your home. Altogether, the change that Leonard is seeking must be initiated by individual citizens and large organizations working together to save the imperiled world.

7. Bag It

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Image: Bag IT

What starts off as a sustainability documentary about plastic bags switches into a wholesale investigation into plastic’s effects on our oceans, environment, and bodies. We see how the world’s obsession with plastic has now caught up to us, but what can we do to help?

This sustainability documentary includes interesting interviews, archival footage, creative graphics, and highlighted author Berrier’s insight but in a way that is quite easily understood even for those viewers that are non-scientific. Bag It has been super successful and is a very informative documentary for someone who is eager to learn more about plastic in detail.

8. Just Eat It

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Our love for food has us invested in cooking shows, culinary magazines, and foodie blogs. But can you ask yourself how could we throw out nearly 50% of it in the trash? Just eat it is a food waste documentary by filmmakers Jenny Rustemeyer and Grant Baldwin. They dive into the issue of waste from farms, through retail, all the way to the back of their own fridge. After finally seeing the amount of money wasted on good food each year, they pledge to quit grocery shopping and survive only on discarded food. The one exception will be meals to which they have been invited by family and friends. 

After six months they were very surprised about how easy it became to find perfectly good food but how difficult it is to get food when you just ask for it. In the documentary, they interviewed a few food activists who shared their opinions on the largely aesthetic and economic, misconceptions of the public especially concerning "best before" dates.

9. Garbage The Revolution

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A very interesting documentary about how the family household has become one of the most ferocious environmental predators of our time. The writer and director, Andrew Nisker is very concerned about future generations so asked an urban family to keep every scrap of garbage that they create for three months. He then shows them where it all goes and what harm it is causing our planet.

The documentary series even shows us what happens to the organic waste including all the waste from our potty, millions of plastics bags, the water bottle process, and air pollution they create when transporting the kids around. They discover that for every action there is a reaction that affects them and the environment.

10. A Plastic Ocean

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This documentary presents journalist Craig Leeson searching for the great blue whale and discovering plastic waste in what should be a pristine ocean. In this sustainability documentary, Craig teams up with free diver Tanya Streeter and an international team of scientists and researchers then traveled to twenty different locations over the next four years to explore the fragile state of our oceans. 

At this time they uncover alarming truths about plastic pollution and reveal working solutions that can be put into immediate effect. For example in one year, every person on the planet will use about three hundred pounds of single-use plastic. While the amount of plastic produced each year is already massive, production is expected to triple by 2050 as the world population increases. We need to start taking action to address the problem now.

11. Blue Planet II

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The ocean simply continues to amaze us. This zero-waste documentary is focused on wildlife and is presented by David Attenborough, exploring the planet’s oceans. Traveling from the icy polar seas to the vibrant blues of the coral atolls, this series shares these impressive new discoveries. For example, the strangest octopuses lurking in the depths of the Antarctic ocean, the giant trevally fish leap to catch birds in mid-air and ride on the back of a killer whale as it swims. 

Blue Planet II presents itself as not just family-friendly, not simply educational, but even uplifting. Blue Planet II was very inspiring and reveals surprising new places, new characters, and extraordinary new behaviors.

12. Plastic Paradise: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

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Many famous sustainability documentaries have already been produced, however, this documentary from journalist Angela Sun offers valuable new insight. The zero-waste documentary shares information about the damage that modern technology is doing to the planet. The documentary shows a disturbing image of a dead bird being cut open, as plastic objects are removed from its stomach. It also shares a brief history of plastic, which in contrast to natural materials never really decomposes.  

Those who have visited the beaches encountered plastic residue but may not realize the extent of the problem. Sun shows us the Midway Atoll, best known as the site of a famous battle during World War II, and the large island in the Pacific which has become a massive garbage dump.

13. Plastic China

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The main message of Plastic China is the impact of imported waste and insightful information on global consumerism. Wang Jiuliang’s Plastic China follows the lives of two families who struggle to survive in a wasteland of refuse shipped from overseas, taking an easy approach rather than exposing the larger problems at play.

However, the film does highlight the families toiling at a plastic recycling factory in Shandong builds into a damning commentary on a modern China marked by extreme divides in wealth and opportunity. This sustainability documentary reveals the true face of China by following these families’ daily lives, and it shows us how this work of recycling plastic waste with their bare hands takes a toll not only on their health, but also on their own dilemma of poverty, disease, and pollution. 

Final thoughts on these Zero Waste Documentaries

Who knew with just a few hours of watching these sustainability documentaries can change your perspective and have you focus on ways to make a better impact on the earth. Some of these zero waste documentaries can certainly be filled with doom and gloom, that’s not stopping people from devouring this crucial information. Our situation may be scary and overwhelming, but these zero waste films make hard facts easier to digest and solutions easier to engage with. However, if you’re a fan of books or prefer podcasts, that’s perfect! As long as you find information that is valuable and teaches you a little more than you know. Making smaller steps are better than not making any at all.

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