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Film Review: The Clean Bin Project

“Are you going to the Quiz on Saturday?” my friend Mary asks me.

“No, I’m going to see a Rubbish Film.”  Even as this comes out of my mouth, I am aware that this is not a good explanation.  “I mean, it’s a film about rubbish.  It’s good.  I think.  I’ve been told it is, anyway.”

What I mean to say is that I’m going to a Community Screening of the “Clean Bin Project” film.  Although I’m part of the moderating team of the Lewes Freegle internet based reuse group which has organised the event, it’s another of our mods, Liz, who has done most of the actual organising.  I’m just coming along with cakes for the fund raising sale (which we started running last year – Freegle is free to use, but not free to run.)  And to be honest, I’m a bit dubious about my choice of activity, since when I look on the internet, I can’t find much information on what this film is about and whether it’s any good.

So now I’ve watched it, this review is partly to help answer these questions.

The film was made by Grant Baldwin and Jenny Rustemeyer, a couple who decided to have a go at living for a year buying nothing, and producing as little waste as possible.  If you look at their blog, you’ll find some background on their thinking behind this – it was conceived as a challenge and an experiment.  Grant and Jenny explain early on that they are a competitive pair and the idea of making a competition out of it spurs them both on.

The rules are:

– No buying material goods

– No producing waste (ie all packaging must be recycling)

– Take responsibility for your waste (ie if you are out and about, take everything home to compost or recycle)

It’s fun and interesting seeing the everyday challenges of this.  However, where the film really takes off is where it hooks in with the work of the internationally acclaimed artist, Chris Jordan

Chris was taken with the idea of what rubbish looks like from afar.

Here is one of the first of his works that we are introduced to:

The website is clever; from afar, the work is like an impressionist painting.  But as you zoom in, you realise that each dot is a plastic bag, and that the total work is made up of 60,000 plastic bags, which is the number used in the US every five seconds.

This one here is my favourite:

because it’s so mathematical and beautiful.  And herein lies the disturbing truth, which is that we mostly blind ourselves to the true cost of what our consumerism, because of our desire for the beauty facilitated by what we throw away.

There is no such ambiguity however when the film moves on to photographs Chris has taken:

These are pictures of baby albatrosses who have been inadvertently fed so much plastic by their parents that their digestive systems stop working and they die and decompose.

Grant and Jenny make judicious use of these poignant moments, keeping most of the film light hearted despite the seriousness of the subject matter.  But they do question what difference two people can make in the light of what is going on in the world around us.   For example, Grant in filming from the middle of a frenzied price slashing session in a shoe store.  He is interviewing a shopper, and asking her what she thinks of the fact that she is, er, shopping on World Environment Day…

“It’s OK, I got this tree…” she says, and even as she holds up a little plastic trinket that she has picked up from somewhere, her smile is already fading and frozen.

It made me think about where I am currently on the subject of waste.  I used to be much more hardcore about it.  I used to make pasta using flour and eggs, because these items came in cardboard packaging that could be composted. Instead of crisps, I used to make my kids potato bhajis for their school lunches and they had home made cakes and bread.

As the years went on, little by little, my habits slipped.  The main issue was the fact that they really weren’t that keen on the food.  Home made bread makes a great accompaniment for soup, but a really, really bad packed lunch sandwich. And your diet can become quite restricted if you are making your choices around packaging, as I was.  And you do wonder what difference your tiny contribution can make.

But… seeing two people produce so little waste less than a bucketful over the whole year) was impressive.  OK, it was extreme.  But it goes to show that it can be done.  And it makes you think – what if everyone could aim for that?  Then there would be a difference…

Acknowledging this in the film, one of the messages from Grant and Jenny was that if it all seems too much, then just do one thing to cut down on your waste.

The biggest thing you can do, apparently, is to stop putting your food in the landfill bin, if you haven’t done so already.  Methane from rotting food waste is one of the biggest environmental problems to come out of landfill.

“Do you remember those potatoes I used to fry for your lunch box?” I ask my daughter when I get home.

“Yeah.  Crisps are better though,” she says.

“They are.    But what about the packaging?  Every time you eat crisps you have to throw away the packet.  And I’ve just been to see this film where…”

She does get it, when I explained it.  And it does make her think.

“It might not be crisps,” I say.  “But what if you gave up one thing, made one choice, that would make a difference?”

It comes down to choice.  We like choice.  We like the choice, of flavours, of shapes, and we like the choice to be in the here in now.  As my daughter proves, if it’s our own choice to give something up, and not a choice made by someone else, we will like that decision more.

The film was well received by those who attended the screening and I think it made us all think seriously about the choices we make.

 If you are interested in watching The Clean Bin film, go here, or leave an email address in a comment at the end of this blog for me to contact you through – it may be possible to arrange this through the Freegle organisation.

Your friendly Freegle mods - bringing you baked goods since 2012

Your friendly Freegle mods – bringing you baked goods since 2012



  1. For two people to produce less than a bucket full of waste in a year is extremely impressive. Honestly, I would find it difficult to do it in a week. I feel if everyone did one or two thing to reduce their waste, it would make an impact on our environment. Thanks for bringing attention to this problem, Denise.

    • The film was so good at making me revisit my thoughts on waste and recycling. It would be great if it could be distributed in mainstream cinemas instead of having to be community screened. It said everything a lot better than I have here!

      • You said it very well, Denise and you’ve got me thinking. I’m still stunned by the less than a bucket of waste in a year…incredible.

  2. That sounds like a movie I’d like to see. There is so much plastic packaging. You can’t even buy fruit from the supermarket without it being pre-packaged in plastic. Why do they do that? It’s such a waste.

    I’ve seen those photos of the dead birds that have starved to death because their stomachs are filled with our rubbish. It’s heartbreaking. I personally would like to see the companies that make these products forced to see their product right through to the disposal of it, not just the point of sale. I realise that we must take responsibility for our own waste of course – I’m not saying consumers should get a free ride – but I want to see more responsibility from the manufacturers themselves as well. In Germany for instance, industry is responsible for the entire lifecycle of the product from production to point of sale to disposal.

    • There was a discussion after the film in which the subject of cost was touched upon. I guess if a supermarket prepackages the food, then it can be sold in neat units with no need to waste money on staff costs to weigh the items on checkout. It’s in the supplier’s interests to make us buy more, so we get multibuys held together with plastic packaging, and offers that tempt us to buy more fresh produce than we can eat.

      The German model you mention is an interesting one and it would be an idea for us to look at that. If industry doesn’t take responsibility for the lifecycle of the product then they are in effect freeloading on the back of the environment of the wider population.

  3. You hit the nail on the head for me – If we all did one thing it would make a huge difference. Plus you are more likely to keep at it if it comes down to your own choice and if you understand the consequences of that action. If we are told or forced to do these things they never seem to work do they? If we do not understand the reasoning behind the action then it makes the action quite pointless. There is a long way to go before we can all be living off minimal waste and until manufacturers design and use packaging that can be recycled. In the mean time we need to just be a bit more aware of how we purchase things.

    • Amazon are not perhaps a total force for good, but I do like their simple packaging – easy to reopen and reuse. This move didn’t seem to do them any harm, it’s a shame more companies haven’t followed their lead.

  4. This sounds like a great film, I’ll definitely have to check it out. I really admire people like this couple, and I agree that if every single person on the planet changed one thing it would make a huge difference. I’d say I’m a lot ‘greener’ than most of my friends and often get the feeling they think I’m OTT with some of my habits. I’m not a materialistic person at all, and am glad I’m out of the consumerism loop these days.

    I try to not buy anything new if I can help it, pretty much everything we have is second hand in some way or another. We only have eco/home made natural toiletries and household products. I always take bags out when I go grocery shopping. I cook almost all our food from scratch too, as you said it can limit your diet somewhat but with all our food intolerances processed food is often out of the question anyway.

    What I find most shocking is that some folk still put all their waste into the landfill bin, when so much can be recycled. Or chucking out old clothes and unwanted goods, when we have charity shops that would gladly take them and make some money for a good cause.

    Your Freegle group sounds amazing! Thanks for another lovely post Denise, really enjoyed this 🙂

    • As you say, a little change would make a lot of difference. After all, only fifty years ago we were much more sparing in our habits. But many little changes the other way took us to where we are today.

      I think cooking your own food from scratch makes a big difference to the amount of waste produced. I’d like to get back that way a bit more, when I get more organised.

      I love second hand clothes! I get used to which brands fit my shape and size and then I can buy from eBay. It’s easy with kids, but unfortunately when they become teenagers they are growing so much that every week they change shape. It’s quite weird for them! And difficult for clothes.

      When I am at my happiest, it’s because I have so many things I love to think about and do that I forget about material possessions.

  5. I remember reading about this project a while ago and hearing about the one bucket of waste in a year and being truly amazed so thanks for sharing this information here Denise.

    I find it fascinating and can only marvel at the will-power these people must have to live like this. I wish I could do the same and when I think of all our rubbish (despite religiously recycling as much as humanely possible and is allowed by South Somerset District Council, even our food waste gets put into a small brown bin outside and a larger one for the weekly collection) I still feel ashamed and it’s just the three of us ;-(

    • I think it is hard work – they looked quite raddled by the end of the project!

      The good thing is that council recycling is so much better these days than it used to be. The bad thing is if you look in our bin, I produce more waste in a day than these guys do in a year…

      I might try a little mini project with the girls – just choosing one thing and seeing how we go with it. We are going to try making bagels tomorrow! They eat bagels every day for lunch and that would save a lot of plastic bags, if the bagels turn out right.

  6. Thanks so much for the great review! Glad to hear the screening inspired some conversation. And you’re right, we don’t all have to do everything, but we can each do something.

    • The film really got me thinking. It was a great achievement by both of you to keep going for a year, as well as making such an interesting and enjoyable film.

      I have to make some adjustments to my life (ie working out some good recipes and getting a cooker that actually works) and then I would hope I to be in a better place to reduce my waste long term.

    • I made Christmas decorations out of newspapers today! Which I don’t think I would have done otherwise, I would have gone out and bought some (we have a bigger tree this year and it looked bare with our normal stash on them,)

  7. This is really inspiring Denise! Its really worrying to think about landfills and the non-biodegradeable waste we produce more and more of and where it will all lead… How were the bagels?

    • The bagels went fine until I put them in the oven 😦

      Ironically, I really to scrap my old oven and install a new one before I can think of reducing my waste. My oven has no fan and the seal fell off, which means that controlling the temperature is total guesswork. If you put things in too high up they burn and too low down they don’t cook.

      Watch this space…

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