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  • Writer's pictureAmanda Swanson

What Wall-E Can Teach Us About Sustainability

In an age that prioritises consumption and single-use items, Disney’s 2008 WALL-E speaks louder than ever.



Directed by Andrew Stanton, WALL-E tells the story of a janitorial robot tasked with cleaning the excessive garbage left behind on a futuristic Earth. The titular character WALL-E is the last of his kind, and in his pursuit of love with another droid named EVE, he successfully brings humanity back home to begin anew.


In his director’s commentary, Stanton reveals he never had an environmental agenda; he worked backwards from the concept of a lone robot on Earth, feeling as though the setting of a dystopian worldwide landfill was the natural progression from our present.

Stanton states he ‘never wished anything to be that prophetic’ regarding WALL-E. So in 2022, how realistic is this future looking?


According to the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the UK produced 222.2 million tonnes of waste in 2018 alone.


The reliance and overconsumption of single-use items does not help this. For example, it is estimated the UK uses 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups annually.


Overconsumption and litter are a central concern in WALL-E; within the opening scene, the future is depicted as an uninhabitable wasteland of trash because of this lifestyle. From the lack of dialogue, the viewer is forced to analyse and take in the imagery, immersing themselves in the version of Earth WALL-E has come to know.


The image that stood out to me was the wind-turbines atop mountains of garbage. It provides a stark contrast to the green, sprawling landscapes we’d expect, and painfully showcases our negative impact on the environment.



With his compacted trash, WALL-E creates towering structures that resemble the typical skyscrapers we’d see in a modern city, so much so they easily blend in, albeit a bit crudely. It is an apt metaphor for the fact that items designed to be discarded or thrown away are the building bocks for the lifestyle perpetuated by modern culture.


Another crucial part of the focus on waste, however, is to demonstrate that what we throw away doesn’t simply disappear.


While it is easy to fall into the “out of sight out of mind” headspace regarding litter, it is important to remember that somewhere, it will still take up space, whether it be in landfills, our oceans or even our own neighbourhoods.


When we do finally see human characters, we watch as they still engage in their consumerist lifestyles, throwing away any item they deem unusable.


Piles of garbage – much like the mountains of trash we witnessed earlier on Earth – are created in the bowels of the Axiom (one of the countless starliner spacecrafts built by the Buy n Large corporation) which are compacted and jettisoned into space by larger versions of WALL-E.



Therefore, we can see that humanity hasn’t learnt the lesson provided to them from the remains of Earth, continuing their habits on larger and larger scales.


That’s not to say it is all doom and gloom, however. Much like the plant bringing hope to the Axiom, the movie presents the viewer with a solution to avoid this bleak future – finding value in reuse through a change in our attitude.


WALL-E urges us to reconsider how we perceive “trash” and the power of recycling. WALL-E’s truck is full of mundane trinkets – from cutlery to iPods – in which he holds an appreciation for.


WALL-E expresses himself through his recycling habits. Not only is his home itself a renovation of a transport truck, but he is able to redecorate it into something more expressive, repurposing old technology into entertainment which he is able to maintain and repair over time.


His curiosity and hoarding tendencies are what makes his personality unique from the other droids seen throughout the film, showcasing how we can find joy out of the little things, especially the easily discarded.


Whereas the others of his kind fell into disrepair, WALL-E has been able to keep himself alive through reuse, for example when he exchanges his beaten down tires with another in good condition.


Ultimately, it is WALL-E’s demonstration of reuse that saves him in the end, as EVE replicates his habits to repair him.


Power is still a possibility on Earth. Adverts and energy are sustained through solar-power, including WALL-E himself. With proper maintenance, it’s amazing to think what the aforementioned wind turbines could accomplish in this Earth’s turbulent weather.


It all comes down to a matter of prioritisation and general attitude. The sustainable energy was chosen to fuel humanity’s consumerism, but these efforts could be spent on something much more beneficial and less environmentally harmful.



While it would be easy to brush WALL-E off as a simple children’s movie, it’s messages can resonate with all ages.


Captain McCrea, the Axiom's captain and commander, educates himself and is horrified by the degradation of nature and culture through the costs of a lifestyle emphasised by consumerism.


While the original Buy N’ Large figureheads knew it was easier to abandon Earth completely, the Captain realises humanity’s duty to not only look out for each other, but also the environment and what they call their home, even if the process to do so would be more difficult.


Hence, adults are encouraged to lead by example for the younger generation – children are taught at an early age that Buy N’ Large’s ideals are the most effective and almost natural ones, but in the finale, the Captain is teaching them about sustainability and its benefits.



Despite being produced over a decade ago, WALL-E is still a meaningful film with messages that have only become timelier. The benefit of science fiction is it provides a glimpse into the future to warn us of the dangers of the present.


By changing our attitude towards trash and consumerism, even if it is through small steps that will build up over time or research, we can avoid this future before it is too late.


By Amanda Swanson ©

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