Documentary Film

Disposable Addiction is a documentary film conceptualized by Alvaro Argueta & Anna Pollock.

Using the El Naranjo watershed as a microcosm for what is happening across the country, this documentary investigates the root of Guatemala’s trash problem. Although “improved technology” and “modern convenience” have changed habits and ways of life – making it easier to do all things on-the-go – these changes have had a catastrophic impact on our planet, especially in countries like Guatemala where both infrastructure and political will are lacking.

Items that previously came in natural, biodegradable wrappings or returnable glass jars now come wrapped in plastics of all types and the majority of Guatemala has no system for their responsible disposal. Without a widespread trash collection and disposal infrastructure system in Guatemala, rural communities are forced to create their own dumpsites filled with items that can take hundreds of years to breakdown. Often these dumpsites are in steep ravines or on the banks of rivers – land owned by no one, cared for by no one. And often they are dangerously close to precious waterways.

It is no secret that the accumulation of trash resulting in contamination of the natural environment is a major problem in Guatemala, but a comprehensive solution is lacking at all levels.  The documentary film Disposable Addiction seeks to empower local communities and local leaders to take steps to combat the issue in their communities by highlighting promising efforts taking place across the country and creating the linkages necessary to  begin their implementation.

The early part of the filming process was used to better understand the magnitude of the problem as well as the key challenges to garner the support and momentum needed to create lasting change. The documentary examines these challenges from many angles: environmental, political, ancestral practices, daily behaviors, and infrastructure investments. The main focus of documentary film, however, is not on the problem but on local solutions and local movements that have the ability to change and improve the Guatemalan landscape, creating a cleaner, healthier environment for future generations.

About the watershed

To examine the problem, the film focuses on the El Naranjo watershed, the third largest  on the Pacific coast of Guatemala. At 1,273 square kilometers, and home to 650,000 people, the watershed is located within the departments of San Marcos and Quetzaltenango. There are only 6 treatment plants for solid waste in the entire watershed, leaving the vast majority of rural inhabitants without a comprehensive solution for their generated waste. Lack of infrastructure and coverage coupled with ever-increasing amounts of non-recyclable, non-biodegradable waste has forced communities to develop their own easy access, low-cost solutions. The result is over 50 illegal dumpsites with no technology or treatment.

The watershed is comprised of a wide swath of land in the mountains of San Marcos, tapering as it continues downhill toward the Pacific coast. In the highlands, many small rivers cross the terrain, converging as they run downstream, eventually conjoining into one large river, the Rio Naranjo, which deposits significant amounts of contaminated freshwater and trash into Pacific Ocean between the coastal municipalities of Ocos and La Blanca.

Rios El Naranjo

All of the rivers that make up the El Naranjo watershed. Map provided by the MARN.

Dumps El Naranjo

Yellow dots represent the municipal dumps. Red dots represent the illegal dumpsites. Note their proximity to the rivers. Map provided by the MARN.

The result has been a recent and massive influx of trash on the popular beaches of Ocos, Tilapa and Tilapita, hampering wildlife, tourism and health of the local inhabitants.

About the solutions

The good news is that there are amazing, interesting, innovative and collaborative solutions happening across Guatemala that seek to address these problems. But, since many of these solutions are being implementing at a small scale, by individuals, local communities, and small NGOs, they are often overlooked.

Disposable Addiction seeks to shine light on promising solutions, making them more accessible to the general public in Guatemala, motivating government officials and activists to continue fighting for a better future.

Some of the entities expected to be featured in the film include:

  • Long Way Home, a non-profit organization building earthship style homes and schools in San Juan Comalapa;
  • Pura Vida Atitlan, a non-profit organization building schools out of eco-bricks around Lake Atitlan;
  • Ecofiltro, a Guatemalan company producing ceramic water filters;
  • B’enam & Co, a Guatemalan company designing and manufacturing re-usable products;
  • Ecoactiva, a community-led organization seeking to promote sustainable practices in Antigua Guatemala; and
  • GuatePassport, a local movement promoting eco-tourism and conservation across the country.