Green as mass
Garbage! maker takes his message to Walmart
Andrew Nisker’s films have never had a theatrical release, but they’re suddenly getting noticed around the world, whether it’s by a Transylvanian environmentalist or a top Walmart executive in Arkansas.
“The folks at Rachel McAdams’ blog called me, then Criss Angel’s production company called, then Leonardo DiCaprio’s blog posted about me,” he says. “Not to name drop, but you know, the word definitely seems to be getting out.”
Pretty impressive for a guy who specializes in low-budget documentaries about garbage and cleaning products. Perhaps it has something to do with his distribution methods — Nisker makes his work available for purchase online, encouraging others to hold small-scale screenings at home or in their local libraries, which in turn leads to more viral, word-of-mouth advertising — but it could also be that his films are straightforward and accessible, full of practical solutions to vexing environmental problems.
His first effort, Garbage!, tracked a Toronto family who agreed to keep their garbage for three months, eventually confronting the effect it will have on the Earth when they dump it. His latest film is Chemerical, which adopts a similar guinea-pig scenario, chronicling a family as they struggle to rid their house of chemicals and make all their cleaning, beauty and hygiene products from scratch.
But the interest from Walmart’s headquarters marks an official turning point in Nisker’s career; he’s gone from sending environmental messages via grassroots filmmaking to speaking directly to one of America’s biggest corporations.
“One of their employees got in touch with me after seeing Garbage!,” Nisker says, “and wanted me to come down and talk to them. I think my key message will be that the revolution always starts at home. It’s consumers who make choices, which in turn leads to policy change from governments and corporations.
“From what I’ve read, Walmart actually seems to be one of the most progressive companies in the world,” he adds. “They have great advisors, they’re trying to make sure they know exactly how their products are made. But they also have 1.9 million employees, which is a big audience. I’m excited to get their attention.”
When the time comes for Nisker to speak to this audience at the end of April, he intends to discuss issues pertaining to waste (such as product lifespans), as well as the possibility of the company reevaluating its line of cleaning products.
Take the GreenWorks brand, by Clorox. “It’s a pretty light-green solution,” Nisker argues, “but it’s significant that they even chose to offer it in the first place, and it does make a difference. Ultimately, I have to decide whether I want to make an enemy or open a dialogue and find solutions. Walmart is driven by profit, so if they can make profit by selling sustainable things and operating in a sustainable way, I think they’ll be all for it.”
The release of Chemerical, alongside Nisker’s appearance at Walmart, comes at a time when toxins — especially those present in cleaning products — are making headlines every day; meanwhile, books such as Slow Death By Rubber Duck, about the evils of Teflon, flame retardants and bisphenol-A, are on the bestseller list.
“There will be huge shift,” Nisker says. “It’s obvious, right now, if you just look at the green cleaning market. In 2009, even with the recession, the green cleaning market grew 30%. People are rediscovering things like baking soda, vinegar and olive oil; it’s cheaper, as well as healthier, to live like this, so why wouldn’t you?”
❚ Chemerical airs tonight at 8 p.m. on Super Channel. In Toronto, it screens at the Royal Cinema next Tuesday at 7 p.m. See andrewnisker.com for more.
Through his films, Andrew Nisker hopes there will be
less trash to take out.