Celebrate Earth Day 2014 with environmental documentary Trashed at its Houston premiere

The beauty of Earth from space stands in stark contrast to the view from the ground. There is now more human detritus across the globe than ever before. Industrialization, coupled with exponential population increases, pose a serious threat to the life and health of humans and ecosystems across the world.

A scene from the documentary Trashed, making its Houston  premiere Thursday, April 24 at 6:30 p.m. at the Houston Museum of Natural Science in celebration of Earth Day 2014.

A scene from the documentary Trashed, making its Houston premiere on Thursday, April 24 at 6:30 p.m. at the Houston Museum of Natural Science in celebration of Earth Day 2014.

Vast landscapes in China are covered in tons of rubbish. The wide waters of the Ciliwung River in Indonesia are now barely visible under a never-ending tide of plastic. Children swim among leaking bags; mothers wash in the sewage-filled supply.

On a beach in Lebanon, a mountain of rubbish towers — a pullulating eyesore of medical waste, household trash, toxic fluids and dead animals. It’s the result of 30 years of consumption by Sidon, just one small city. As the day’s new consignments are added to the top, debris tumbles off the side and into the blue of the Mediterranean.

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“There is an equally urgent need for the most imaginative and productive solutions to this troublesome subject to be understood and shared by as many communities as possible throughout the world. This is where movies can play such an important role: educating society, bringing ‘difficult’ subjects to the broadest possible audience,” says Irons on the urgent need for addressing the problem of waste and sustainability.

In the North Pacific, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch shows the detrimental effect of plastic waste on marine life. Chlorinated dioxins and other man-made persistent organic pollutants are attracted to the plastic fragments. These are eaten by fish, which absorb the toxins. We then eat the fish, accumulating more poisonous chemicals in our already burdened bodies.

Meanwhile, global warming, accelerated by the emissions from landfill and incineration, is melting the ice caps and releasing decades of these old poisons, which had been stored in the ice, back into the sea.

Trashed Blog 3Each year, we throw away 58 billion disposable cups, billions of plastic bags, 200 billion liters of water bottles, billions of tons of household waste, toxic waste and e-waste. We keep making things that do not break down.

You have all heard these horrifying facts before. In Trashed, you can discover what happens to the billion or so tons of waste that go unaccounted for each year.

The documentary Trashed makes its Houston debut Thursday, April 24 at 6:30 p.m. at the Houston Museum of Natural Science in celebration of Earth Day 2014.

The documentary Trashed makes its Houston debut Thursday, April 24 at 6:30 p.m. at the Houston Museum of Natural Science

In the award-winning documentary Trashed, Academy-Award winning actor Jeremy Irons travels to locations around the world to see how natural landscapes are now tainted by pollution to discover the extent and effects of the global waste problem. He then turns to hope and searches for solutions. From individuals who have changed their lives and produce almost no waste, to increasing anti-waste legislation, to an entire city which is now virtually waste-free, he discovers that change is not only essential, but happening.

Join Dr. Herb Ward, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Rice University for the Houston premiere of Trashed on Thursday, April 24 at 6:30 p.m. at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. This is a great way to celebrate Earth Day 2014.

Click here for advance tickets.

To learn more about the film, visit trashedfilm.com or watch the trailer for Trashed below.

 

Be trashy: How waste-to-energy could help fuel America

Power Grid is one of my favorite games — but almost all of you have no idea what I’m talking about.

OK, so, Power Grid is a German board game where you compete with other people to create the power grid inside Germany. To do this, you buy different types of power plants — wind and solar, coal, oil, trash, or nuclear. You pay for the right to provide a city with power and pay for the connection fees between cities. You also have to purchase fuel for the power plants to use. It’s an exciting game as you balance the efficiency of your plants, the size of your territory, the number of cities you can power, and your fuel reserves. All the while, three to five other players are competing with you for all the same things.

Power Grid

As with most games, I accepted the rules and devices that the game used without thinking of them in real, tangible terms. When my armies are marching through Kamchatka, I don’t think of it as a real place. Nor do I when I try to build enough corrals for my pigs and sheep. But the Wiess Energy Hall  has got me thinking about the power grid in real terms.

I know that Germany is exiting the nuclear market and that they are the second, after the United States, in wind power. But I had not thought of the trash plants as using actual trash for power generation. Using waste to produce energy is surprisingly popular in Europe.

There are more than 400 waste-to-energy plants across Europe. Some countries and cities have gotten so good at using waste to power and heat homes, that they import garbage from the rest of the continent. In Oslo, the capital of Norway, trash is imported from England, Ireland, and even Italy to make up for the short-fall in waste production. Given the size of landfills in America, it seems silly to talk about a city that can’t make enough trash for itself.

The United States operates only about a fourth of waste-to-energy plants that Europe does and produces about 14,000 gigawatts of electricity a year (about the same as geothermal energy). Less then half the states even have waste-to-energy plants. In many states, waste-to-energy is not counted as a renewable energy because it should not be renewable and its not carbon neutral.

Should we be using waste-to-energy? On the one hand we do have a lot of waste. You produce an average of 4 pounds of garbage a day. That’s almost a ton a year, which means that the United States produces about 4 trillion pounds of trash each year. We also have a large energy need. However, depending on what they burn, waste-to-energy plants can produce nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxides, and even mercury.  But waste-to-energy plants do produce far less methane than letting all that trash sit there in a landfill. Can the harmful gases be scrubbed out and not released?  Yes, but this increases the cost of the plant and then you have to store those excess chemicals. One of the hidden costs of waste-to-energy is the assumption that we will continue to produce waste. While we will always produce some, we should be striving to recycle and reuse more and more.

So should we have more of waste-to-energy plants in the United States? Do the benefits outweigh the cost? Both sides have good points, and it would be nice to do something with all that trash we have sitting around. Should we export our trash to Europe? We have a commodity that they need, but what would happen if a ship full of trash went down? What we should do is realize that all that trash we produce might get a second chance as energy if policies, economics, environmental safety and will are aligned.