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Action Guide

Action on Waste

The wastefulness that is standard practice in our industry is often the ‘elephant in the room’. Constructing a set only to dismantle it weeks later, without a clear plan for reuse or recycling, epitomises a linear economy model: take, make, waste.
The widespread use of disposable items on set, from plastic water bottles to catering supplies, contributes to a culture of convenience that overlooks environmental costs. Our industry bears a significant environmental footprint in terms of waste generation and it is long past the time where this needs to change.
On set, in production offices (and even in our personal lives), waste practices are deeply ingrained and habitual. Some of the changes on waste are going to be difficult, costly, and more intransigent than others. Options for circularity are often simply not available or will take more time to create than your teams have available. As with most things, starting early in your planning is going to open more options in your waste management strategy.

Producers are not waste experts, so consider collaborating with environmental organizations for waste audits, tips and certifications. Expand your knowledge on Zero Waste practices utilizing Zero Waste Canada & Zero Waste International Alliance Hierarchy of Highest and Best Use Policies as guidance.
“A great example of reducing waste and contributing to the community… In 2018, we found the perfect location for our Irish period drama – the Broadhaven lighthouse on Ireland's rocky west coast. The only problem was the keeper's cottage had been destroyed by years of neglect, its roof blown off by the coastal winds, its insides soaked by rain. Instead of building a replica from scratch on a soundstage, we saw an opportunity to do something different. With the help of a local architect with a specific expertise in period design, we restored the cottage to its former glory, using recycled materials wherever possible and sourcing archival photographs to understand how the cottage would have looked in its prime. Not only did this give us a location with the true ambiance of 1920s Ireland, but it allowed us to give something back to our host community – a fully-functional new building that will be used on an ongoing basis long after our film wrapped.”
Planet Earth seen from space
Kim Roberts
Co-CEO and Producer, Cry From the Sea, Sepia Films

Circular Thinking

Our linear economy sees materials as having value with a start date and an end date - the "take-make-use-waste" principle. Resources are extracted from the planet, transformed into products, sold and consumed by consumers, and discarded as waste once the item is no longer serving the user. This model fails in so many ways - it takes far more than the planet has to give, it encourages overconsumption (if you throw something out, you’re more likely to buy something else) and cuts short the actual value of so many objects in our consumer world.

In contrast, the circular economy (or regenerative economy) is designed to circle these items back into the economy, looping the waste back to the start as a resource again. This “waste-to-resource” model can feed a constant loop of reusing and recycling, is more social and community based, and reduces the drain on natural resources.

Circularity looks different for each waste category. Get creative! With the challenge of re-homing all materials, give your departments time to think creatively about where to send their items. These examples can inspire you to ensure your waste is getting looped back into the economy, rather than ending up in landfill:
  • Food → Organic waste is the most valuable type of waste we have. If unsuitable for redistribution and when properly processed, food waste can become a nutrient-dense fertilizer, composter, or soil, replenishing our depleting soils and growing new food in a truly circular and infinite loop.
  • Plastics → When properly recycled, many types of plastic can be turned into plastic pellets which are then used by plastic manufacturers to make new plastic products instead of using virgin materials. Single use plastics should be completely avoided.
  • Metal → Metal scrap yards collect all types of metal, bundle them, and resell to various parties in the building world that are looking for affordable metal materials. Aluminum items are one of the most recyclable materials, easily melted down and turned into new cans or other goods. 
  • Wood → Wood, especially flats and other set building materials, should remain intact, stored or donated/resold as much as possible. Damaged and unusable wood can be turned into wood chips which can be used in a number of ways in gardening & landscaping, agriculture, or even as fuel.
  • Cardboard → Cardboard is an already recycled material, made up of wood pulp and other paper products. It can be continuously recycled and turned into new cardboard. It can also be repurposed for storage, households, or gardening.
“I worked on a show and fake snow was created.  At the end of production, we had 40 bags of batting that we didn't want to throw out. We found a local quilting group that happily accepted it, to be used as stuffing for their quilts. It saved them money, supported a local group, and kept the material out of landfill.”
Shaftesbury Logo
Louise Pollard

The Value of a Waste Audit

A waste audit is an in-depth analysis of your waste and waste habits. Typically, 3 or 5 days of waste is collected and hand sorted, piece by piece. This can be done internally or by a waste vendor. It counts where items were sorted correctly (a recyclable item went in the recycling bag) or incorrectly (a recyclable item went in the garbage or compost). The results are insightful and will inform how to address some of your team’s most common mistakes (hint: it’s often a packaging switch at vendor level). Alternatively, you can review audits by other companies and glean their lessons learned. Just like your carbon footprint, a waste audit establishes a baseline for where you’re at, and helps you define where you want to go. An audit will reveal the types of waste and volumes generated and the opportunities for more circular thinking (minimize, re-use, re-homing, recycle). 
“By engaging with each department and asking them to reflect on their daily processes, we were able to come up with some really fun solutions to waste. We installed water stations, thus removing 100% of plastic water bottles, and also made sure to procure water stations that dispensed carbonated water. Because of this, we were able to stop buying Perrier and Club Soda (last season we consumed over 1900 cans). Last season we also had a lot of individually packaged snacks. Our craft person came up with snack dispensers on the wall - so she now purchases the snacks in bulk and package-free, which eliminates a lot of plastic waste. People love the dispensers!”
Island of Misfits Logo
Elsa Tokunaga
Sustainability Manager, This Hour Has 22 Minutes

Best Practices

Consider the following in your company and in your productions:
  • Ban single use plastics on set.  When ready for a more advanced step, ban non-recyclable plastics on set.
  • Develop a plan during pre-production to reduce materials and have an ‘exit-strategy’ for waste.
  • Encourage the art department to design sets for deconstruction.
  • Construction & textile waste should be posted in advance for re-selling, re-homing or as a last resort, donating. You don’t need to wait until wrap to post the items - you can post them during pre-production with an available pick up date listed. 
  • Organic waste should always be composted, never sent to landfill.
  • Sets should have a recycling program.
  • Make renting/repurposing the default option over buying or making new.
  • Source materials for sets, props, SPFX and costumes that are environmentally friendly (non-toxic, sustainably sourced, minimal packaging) can be easily recycled, repurposed or accepted as donated.
  • Work with caterers and other vendors to reduce material and food packaging. Opt for eco-friendly options wherever possible. Donate left-over food.  If culturally appropriate, consider limiting consumption of red meat.
  • Identify other areas to switch to low and zero waste options and work with your team or department heads to put this into action.
  • Choose waste vendors that align with your zero waste goals and that provide comprehensive waste diversion reports.
  • Think outside the box! Explore ways that materials or sets can be given back to the community to use and repurpose