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A landfill in every living room

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Candida Brady, producer/director of “Trashed,” on communicating the need for clean-up


Candida Brady thinks everyone should visit a landfill for a day. The producer/director of the 2012 documentary “Trashed” (view trailer), which follows actor Jeremy Irons on a global tour of garbage sites, did just that at the beginning of her quest to understand the toll trash takes on peoples’ health.

Standing amid these mountains of decay is the only way for people to “understand landfills’ smell, and how it makes you feel,” Brady says. “None of us could talk after filming in them and one of my crew members was violently ill after we filmed in the landfill in Lebanon.”

Bringing a landfill to every living room is an ambitious goal, and “Trashed” has won several awards for the way its narrative conveys the need for clean-up.  Though smell can’t be transmitted through television (yet), Brady lets visuals to do the job, like when the camera follows Irons to the Lebanese port of Saida.

“If you stand on what was once a white sandy beach in a once-beautiful, historic ancient port and see not one but two trash mountains, each over 40 meters high, and think every city in the world has these in one way or the other, it really brings it home,” she says.

Other scenes also make that same point, painfully and powerfully.  During a visit to Vietnam, Brady’s narrative takes Irons and viewers to a children’s hospital, where he scans shelves of disfigured fetuses to illustrate the health risk associated with exposure to high levels of dioxins. Equally compelling are Irons’ trips to an Indonesian river where scores of poor people swim, bathe, and wash their clothes among floating garbage, and to a pasture near a Scandinavian incinerator where a farmer was forced to destroy his entire herd after it had been poisoned by chemicals in the air.  Despite differences in geography, lifestyle, and education among those Brady interviewed, the people she spoke to “all had similar horror stories to tell about waste.” These threads allowed her to weave their disparate stories together.

This sort of first-person storytelling, combined with visual impact, is key to communicating the waste management crisis, its intersection with world poverty, and the global environmental impact. In the new issue of Handshake, IFC’s journal on public-private partnerships, Brady discusses how this approach successfully conveys the scope and severity of the global garbage crisis to a mainstream audience. Though she acknowledges that the scale of the problem is a difficult concept, she believes that connecting viewers with people who have been impacted can quickly bridge the gap in perception.

Brady’s own “aha” moment came early in the process. “During my research I read a study about babies being born with over 250 different man-made and toxic chemicals in their blood, flame retardants and the like.  These children were all tested from different hospitals in different areas,” she says. “Up until that point I had hoped I had imagined it all.”

Brady makes an effort in “Trashed” to demonstrate to each viewer that they are responsible for change, believing that personal and corporate responsibility can together rein in the waste crisis.

We showed really positive change in different ways, from the individual to the big city,” she recounts. “If a city like San Francisco, with all its high rise buildings and busy people, can effect such a dramatic change – 80 percent diversion from landfill -- isn't that how change has always started?  It’s one person at a time.”

IFC’s Advisory Services in Public-Private Partnerships and the Footprint Program have teamed up to bring “Trashed” to the World Bank Group. The documentary will be shown free of charge to World Bank Group and IMF staff at the end of February to mark the publication of Handshake’s new issue on waste PPPs. For details, contact

Alison Buckholtz is a writer and editor for Handshake: IFC’s journal on public-private partnerships, which is published by IFC Advisory Services in Public-Private Partnerships. The complete text of Candida Brady’s interview in Handshake can be found here.



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