Eco-Movies Worth Watching: "Terra Blight"
This week on the Green Life, we're celebrating green cinema.
Terra Blight (2012)
In select theaters; available on iTunes
Watching the documentary Terra Blight on a laptop (and a few hours after buying a new smartphone) certainly underscored the film’s point that the first world abounds with computers. The film also raises a question we rarely ask — what happens to all these electronic devices when we’re through with them?
The disturbing — but upon reflection, not too surprising — answer: they are often dumped in a country far, far away. In just 55 minutes, the film follows the life cycle of computers, particularly their frequent demise in dumpsites like one profiled in Ghana.
Kids frequent the dumpsites to find materials to sell in order to pay for school. They also go to play. Children frolic amid small heaps of burning electronic debris and hill-size mounds of old computers. Wearing flip-flops, shorts, and T-shirts, they pick through the piles with bare hands.
Among the facts listed between scenes throughout the film: “Soil sampled at the dumpsite had 67 times more lead than the U.S. EPA’s limit for direct residential exposure.”
Terra Blight has a gem in Ghanaian journalist Mike Anane, a cool-headed crusader determined to expose the trashed computers (politely termed “e-waste”) exported to his country. He wades through a dumpsite — helping a kid who cuts his foot while smashing a monitor, picking up computers and identifying their sources: a monitor frame labeled “The Washington Metro Area Transit Authority,” a computer tagged “Property of U.S. Patent & Trademark Office,” and, incredibly, a Dell from the U.S. EPA.
“It is illegal to put the e-waste in some landfills in the States,” Anane says. “And yet, it is legal. . . to bring them here to Africa, where we don’t have any proper recycling. We don’t even have any recycling facility at all.”
Anane continues with a common environmental plea: “So it is not a Ghana problem. All these resources, the air, the sea, we all share them. They belong to all of us. And once they all get destroyed, they all get heavily polluted, with lead — we’ll all face the consequences.”
That Anane’s point is not new, and is relevant to so many trappings of modern society, is maddening.
Terra Blight shines hope, though, in profiling Florida-based Creative Recycling, an electronics recycling company with nationwide facilities for disassembling and repurposing computer parts. With its short run-time, though, the film just alights on the e-recycling industry’s promise. Can Creative Recycling’s model work in every state, in every nation?
The prospects for e-waste’s regeneration will require another documentary. In the meantime, lessons for a consumptive society have been noted, sadly, again. Use fewer things, and use them well.
Here’s to making this new smartphone last for years.
Terra Blight screens on June 1 as part of the San Francisco Green Film Festival (SFGFF), which runs through June 5. The film is also available for download on iTunes. Stay tuned to The Green Life this week for peeks at other environmentally focused films, some of which will also play during SFGFF.
Mackenzie Mount is an editorial intern at Sierra. She's cleaned toilets at Yellowstone National Park and studied sustainable cooking at The Natural Epicurean Academy of Culinary Arts in Austin, Texas.