This week is Waste Reduction Week. In addition, in Canada, October is Circular Economy Month, where we engage in better ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle.

Stacey Tenenbaum’s documentary, Scrap makes its way to Canadian cinemas at a timely moment. Filmed in various corners of the world, she shows that mass consumption is slowly becoming a global project in repurposing.

What happens to the millions of cell phones that are discarded when the newest upgrade appears on the market? Where do cars go when they are too old to continue driving? The planet is a landfill, but there are people making a concerted effort to reduce the waste, and even make something new and beautiful from it.

At times, art is more than the sum of its parts. For example, artist John Lopez from South Dakota, uses scrap metal and discarded farming tools to build giant sculptures. The reflective surfaces intermingle with the rusty textures to breathe new life into old objects. Among these pieces of so-called junk, lie stories of Lopez’s community. Family, friends, and neighbors are immortalized within his majestic pieces.

How can we give new life to things that have “died”? When material things are new, they have no identity. They’re all alike. But once they’re used, they collect scars of time. Stories of their owners. Recycling in this way, can preserve history.

With the help of cinematographer Katerine Giguere, Tenenbaum has created her own piece of art. In the opening scenes, we meet a man who has lived in what would otherwise be known as a car dumping grounds. The camera pans through a forest, but also a grand rustoleum. Nature has grown around, over, and through the manmade structures. The patina within the dense woods makes the viewer wonder which came first, the scrap cars or the trees. These images are a visual treat for both urban wanderers and forest bathers.

Scrap visits a factory in India where employees work tirelessly to separate tiny parts by hand. This is their livelihood. Their salary and working conditions aren’t great, but the premise of what they do, day in and out, is a lesson the rest of the world can learn: Why are all these parts scrapped when they can be reused or refurbished? Likewise, in Spain, there are retired ocean liners being turned into beautiful, modern architecture.

We are filling our world with trash. But some that isn’t biodegradable can be salvaged to create something new.


Scrap – now screening in Montreal until October 19th, 2022 at Cinema du Parc. See local listings for other showings across Canada.