By UW Recycling | Jun 26, 2020
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Check Out UW Recycling’s Top Movie and Book Recommendations

The UW Recycling team has put together a list of books and movies we love that teaches us more about the world of waste. Best of all, they are (nearly) all available with a Netflix account, library card, or flat out free!

UW Recycling recognizes that issues surrounding waste and pollution disproportionately impact people of color, while the majority of media representation about waste and pollution is created by white individuals. With this list, we strive to embrace inclusive films and books with multiple perspectives and would love to add your recommendations to help make this list about waste more diverse.


The Story of Plastic

The Story of Plastic looks past the narrative of plastic pollution as a back end problem, and addresses the true impacts of the plastic industry holistically. This journalistic documentary travels the world, telling the story of plastic from the people most impacted by it.

“This is a video you watch when you want to take action on the systematic issues affecting our communities. The foundations of what needs to change are highlighted well here, and I cannot recommend it enough.” -Madeline Schroeder, UW Recycling Program Coordinator

“The Story of Plastic does a great job of showing you where your plastics go after you throw them away, but more importantly, it tells you the story of how the plastics you use came to be. They are able to take an extremely complicated issue and make it digestible so that you know what the problems are and how to take action.” -Adam Fehn, UW Recycling Program Coordinator

“One aspect that left me feeling liberated after watching The Story of Plastic, was that the documentary ultimately highlights the right to a healthy environment and that we must demand oil companies to realize they own the detrimental impacts of plastics.” -Pooja Kumar, Waste Diversion Assistant

Watch this groundbreaking documentary on a variety of streaming services. UW Recycling hosted a screening in 2020. Watch the recording of the event discussion here.

Come Hell or High Water: The Battle For Turkey Creek

“This intimate film tells a gigantic story — about race, about power, about so-called development. But it is also a saga of community, resilience, resistance, and hope. It’s about everything that matters in our society.” – Bill Bigelow, Rethinking Schools

Stream this through UW Libraries (NetID required).

Wasted! The Story of Food Waste

WASTED! exposes one of the world's biggest crises- food waste-from the eyes of famous chefs. This documentary shows us that food waste is more than a missed opportunity. It is a major contributor to climate change, one that we can address by changing the way we think about food.

“As a foodie, this documentary really spoke to me. The story of food waste told from the eyes of chefs is a compelling one, and helps the viewer question our wasteful food systems.” -Gabi Coeuille, UW Recycling Waste Reduction Assistant

You can watch this amazing Anthony Bourdain produced documentary for free by renting the DVD from UW Libraries.


Although it’s not a movie, this docuseries deserves a place on our list. This series shows us to think more critically about the food we have on our shelves. Perhaps our convenience food is not as convenient as we thought.

“Chocolate is one of my most favorite food items to indulge in! However, after watching Rotten's episode on chocolate, I realize my indulgence comes from the cost of exploitation that is rooted in poverty. This episode really helped me broaden my awareness of how corrupt major chocolate supply chains are.” -Pooja Kumar, Waste Reduction Assistant

“Food Waste is an issue that just about everyone contributes to and also one that is so easy to overlook. When you really think about where your food comes from and how much time and energy it took to put it on your plate, it’s a lot easier to gain a greater appreciation for our produce.” Adam Fehn, Program Coordinator

Watch this series on Netflix.


This investigative docuseries shows how broken our manufacturing system really is. Starting at the beginning of our waste problem, rather than the end, Broken questions our culture of consumption.

“Watching this series forced me to confront the downstream effects of my consumption. It was truly eye opening.” -Gabi Coeuille, Waste Reduction Assistant

“When you live in a capitalist system that encourages excess spending, it can be hard to reign that in! It is so important to have a series like Broken that sheds light on the problems with this system. We all need to be more mindful to reduce the amount of unnecessary items we collect, and when necessary, invest in items that are longer lasting and more ethically produced.” -Adam Fehn, Program Coordinator

Watch this series on Netflix.

A Plastic Ocean

A Plastic Ocean shows the global effects of plastic waste and challenges both governments and individuals to work towards a cleaner ocean.

“Watching a Plastic Ocean gave me a huge reality check. From ordering a drink from a coffee shop, buying food from a grocery store, and to eating out at a restaurant, it is impossible to consume something that is not surrounded with plastic. Even if I were to bring my own reusable coffee cup and to-go containers, many are still made from plastic. This film left me analyzing everything that I consume and what tactics I can use to avoid the use of plastic.” -Pooja Kumar, Waste Diversion Assistant

Watch this amazing underwater documentary on Netflix or check it out from the UW Libraries.


In the not-so-distant future, a small trash collecting robot ends up on the adventure of a lifetime. This beautiful movie is for young ones and adults alike, and shows how the health of our earth is a precious commodity- one that can’t be forgotten.

“Wall-E is the movie that sparked my unrelenting interest in the issues of consumerism as a child. If you are looking for an upbeat story about humanity regaining its relationship with the natural world, then this is the film for you!” -Madeline Schroeder, Program Coordinator

“Humans may have left Earth, but Wall-E clearly shows that all that is left behind is the reminiscences of our consumerism and trash. However, it leaves with a liberating ending that shows that our Earth is not disposable and that we must treat it as so!” -Pooja Kumar, Waste Diversion Assistant

This Pixar classic is currently available streaming on Disney +, but it is highly worth a watch, especially if you have a little one that you want to teach about waste. You can also check it out from the UW Libraries.


Jeremy Irons sets out to discover just how big our waste problem is. What he finds is larger than anyone imagined.

“Trashed does an excellent job of explaining the perils of landfilling and incinerating our waste. Though some of the information regarding recycling and composting programs shared later in the film may be a bit outdated, I recommend giving Trashed a watch to learn how dangerous disposing of garbage can be. I previously was aware that burning waste was dangerous, but I had no idea just how severe of a global problem incinerator emissions are. Also worth watching to learn about the waste management issues plaguing many different countries around the world.” - Audrey Taber, UW Recycling Program Coordinator

Stream this beautifully shot movie through the UW Libraries or the King County Library.


"Trash Talks: Revelations in Rubbish" Elizabeth V. Spelmen

“Trash Talks offers a portrait of the intimate ties people maintain with the dumped and discarded. Scavenging with abandon from sundry sources, including Veblen, Darwin, Freud, Plato, Buddha, Milton, and Locke, the book explores the extent to which people rely on trash and waste to make sense of their lives and to shape connections with others.” -Elizabeth V. Spelmen, Author

This book is available online for free with UW Libraries.

"Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret" Catherine Coleman Flowers

This book is about rural sanitization through the lens of climate change, environmental justice and community leadership. Catherine Coleman Flowers is the Rural Development Manager for the Equal Justice Initiative and founder of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice, which focuses on the reduction of health and economic disparities, improved access to clean air, water, and soil in marginalized rural communities.

This book is available through UW Libraries, Seattle and King County Libraries.

"Plastic-Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can Too" Beth Terry

“This book guides readers toward the road less consumptive, offering practical advice and moral support while making a convincing case that individual actions ... do matter." —Elizabeth Royte

Borrow this book or e-book through King County Library.

"Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash" Susan Strasser

“This book takes an unprecedented look at that most commonplace act of everyday life-throwing things out-and how it has transformed American society. Lively and colorful, Waste and Want recaptures a hidden part of our social history, vividly illustrating that what counts as trash depends on who's counting, and that what we throw away defines us as much as what we keep.” -Mary Evans

Borrow from UW Libraries or Seattle Library.

"Plastic: A Toxic Love Story" Susan Freinkel

"Freinkel's smart, well-written analysis of this love-hate relationship is likely to make plastic lovers take pause, plastic haters reluctantly realize its value, and all of us understand the importance of individual action, political will, and technological innovation in weaning us off our addiction to synthetics." —Publishers Weekly

Borrow from UW Libraries, Seattle Library or King County Library.

"What a Waste" Jess French

Here's one for the young ecologists in your life. Help them discover shocking facts about the waste we produce and where it goes. This is a book to blow little minds, and encourage the new generation of environmental activists.

“I got this book for my little cousin and he loved it. Now he constantly asks me about the state of our environment, and makes sure he helps the family with recycling.” -Gabi Coeuille, Waste Reduction Assistant

You can borrow through King County Library or Seattle Library.

"The Buy Nothing, Get Everything Plan" Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockerfeller

“Experience the benefits of buying less and sharing more with this accessible 7-step guide to decluttering, saving money, and creating community from the creators of the Buy Nothing Project.” - Liesl Clark

You can access this ebook through the Seattle Library.

"Waste: Consuming Postwar Japan" Eiko Maruko Siniawer

"Although the exact developmental path and some of the concepts are unique to Japan, the broader narrative will resonate with every reader, especially those living in developed economies. Professor Sinawer takes her readers through the transformation of society from one where there is essentially no waste, as starving people squeeze every nutrient and possible use out of everything, through affluence that promotes mindless consumption and extraordinary waste, to the present when climate-conscious consumers struggle to develop a society that is simultaneously more affluent and less consumptive." - Mary Alice Haddad, Wesleyan University

You can access this ebook through UW Libraries.