Where in the world did the phrase “throw it away” come from, and where the heck is “away?” It’s a clever turn of phrase, really. One that makes us think the act of putting something in a bin keeps things in order, sends items we perceive as waste into some invisible abyss.

It’s easy to feel absolved of any wrongdoing with a system that feels relatively tidy when we allocate our waste to one place. 

In reality, there is no abyss, it doesn’t disappear. One report I read recently estimates that as a result of “the growing crisis in the U.S. recycling industry precipitated by the closure of China’s market to materials recovered from other parts of the world,” the U.S. will run out of landfill space in 15 years.

Meanwhile, countries in Southeast Asia are struggling to dig out of the piles of “recyclables” that amassed before they began rejecting shipments of waste from the west. 

If you’re looking for proof of this look no further than the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival where we won’t beat around the bush, what with the free opening night feature is hard-hitting exposé THE STORY OF PLASTIC, which unveils the disastrous impact plastic manufacturing and waste is having on the planet.


Other films at the festival engage issues of throwaway culture such as SALVAGE, the story of the town of Yellowknife where all walks of life head to the dump to search for treasures in the trash heap. 

This year the films in BSDFF’s nature and environment strand, supported by The Nature Conservancy, largely focus on the intersection of environment and identity, like how ancestral lands are disappearing as seas rise (To Keep As One); how corporations claim resources that have long been sustainably stewarded by locals (No Gold For Kalsaka, Paradise and Common Ground: The Story of Bear Ears); how fishermen have become critical protectors of sea life (Current Sea, Dick Ogg: Fisherman);how elves advise an Icelandic grandmother to fight construction on sacred land (The Seer And The Unseen); and how the last great asset of the American people, our public lands, is under great threat from our government and private interests (Public Trust).

 If these stories don’t inspire you to be a green-minded festival goer, the festival’s Toward Zero Waste (TZW) initiative will. This year Big Sky was the recipient of a grant from the High Stakes Foundation to support festival-wide efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of the event significantly.

We’re proud to have taken the Zero by Fifty Pledge with the City of Missoula, sourcing festival supplies locally wherever possible, using compostable items instead of plastic, banning plastic at special events and parties, and providing clear options for recycling and compost to send less and less “away” to the landfill.

This year the City of Missoula received support from the Can’d Aid Crush It Crusade to provide zero waste bins for Missoula events, train event staff about waste diversion and support events as they tackle unique challenges for reducing waste! Big Sky will have a large team of “Zero Waste Deputies” to help patrons practice zero waste behaviors and take on the work of diverting wasted from those rapidly rising landfills.

The TZW initiative seeks to achieve the following goals:

  • Reduce our waste stream & promote ZERO by FIFTY by providing recycling & composting collection bins in all venues
  • Design waste out of the event by limiting concession stands and food vendors to edible, recyclable and compostable food serviceware
  • Promote reuse by distributing reusable stainless steel souvenir cups to patrons
  • Support recycled material manufacturing by using recycled & recyclable paper for printed materials
  • Reduce vehicle transportation through walkable festival venues and shuttles
  • Educate our community and inspire action with a selection of films focused on climate change, environmental issues, and conservation

Once again in 2020 BSDFF is partnering with Clearwater Credit Union to provide stainless carabiner mugs to visiting filmmakers and festival patrons, encouraging them to use their own vessel and reduce single-use disposables.  

Here’s how you can get involved as a festival patron to help BSDFF move Toward Zero Waste:

  • Walk, bike, or take the FREE Mountain Line or UDASH bus to festival events
  • Take only one program or plan your festivities with our online resources
  • Recycle your program and any paper you collect at the festival
  • Recycle! Compost! You’ll find bins at all festival venues
  • Learn more about ZERO by FIFTY and encourage others to take the pledge
  •  VOLUNTEER on the festival’s Green Team to help with zero waste efforts!

Join us this year to learn more about what “away” means, through the stories on screen and the infrastructure at the event that reminds us of our responsibility to use and throw away less!

Rachel Gregg is the executive director of the Big Sky Film Institute. This Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – every Friday by Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource.

Upcoming Sustainability Events

Every Friday. Missoula Friday Climate Strike. Noon – 1pm. February strikes are at NorthWestern Energy’s Headquarters. Stand in solidarity with climate strikers around the world. Coordinated by Families for a Livable Climate and Sunrise Missoula. More here.

Now through mid-February. Dear Tomorrow Missoula letter writing project, sponsored by Climate Smart Missoula and Families for a Livable Climate. Dear Tomorrow is a global storytelling project focused on sharing personal messages about climate change to inspire action. Details here.

February 8. Fixit Clinic at Home ReSource. 11am- 3pm. Free. Drop in for sewing repairs, small electronics, a 3D printer and more – keep it up and on and running and out of the waste stream! More here.