Best Practices for an Environmentally Friendly Production

Posted on: May 26, 2023

A film crew outside shooting a documentary by the water.Photo Credit: Jakob Owens / Unsplash

By Staff Me Up

Reducing environmental impact is a goal that is top of mind for many productions. But sometimes on-set, the task at hand of shooting a great project takes priority, and
green production goals fall by the wayside.

Since 2009, our friends at EcoSet Consulting have been setting new standards for better practices behind the scenes. EcoSet offers a full range of services aimed to help you reduce your production’s litter footprint, plus their Facebook and Instagram pages are full of interesting ways to minimize waste and recirculate reusable materials.

If you’re looking to get your projects to Zero Waste production, meaning 90% or higher are diversion from landfill, here are some simple ways to start the shift:

1. With a plan in place, it’s not waste

Placing a blue bin on the set doesn’t mean anything is actually getting recycled. What specific materials are being collected? Where is it going? Who is managing it? These are things you need to know and communicate as you develop a plan during pre-production. This should include a follow-through process for all impacts that you choose to manage during your production.

When creating this plan, be sure to discuss goals and expectations with all department heads well in advance of the first shoot day. Get buy-in from the Line Producer, First AD, Location Manager, Production Supervisor and the entire production assistant team, and ask for their commitment to supporting and leading the initiatives. Communicate your environmental goals on all call sheets, crew emails and group distributions. Some of our recommended initiatives will have associated costs, so allocating part of your budget to sustainability as far in advance as possible will benefit your mission.

2. Avoid single-use water bottles

Many of us own and use reusable bottles for water, and often bring them to work. Ask your crew to bring theirs from home and if there’s a budget for it, supply them for your crew to be safe. Provide bulk water from 5-gallon jugs. Jugs and dispensers are now readily available from most production supply rental houses, and refills of the jugs are pennies compared to the cost of single-use plastic water bottles. Each 5-gallon jug used avoids the use and disposal of approximately 40 plastic bottles. Repetition will lead to results. Make sure to remind your crew to bring their reusable bottles on every call sheet email, using signage on-set and during safety meetings or group announcements.

3. Provide reusable plates and utensils

Many production companies now offer ceramic dishes and reusable glasses and mugs in their offices. Extend this practice to set by requesting that your caterer provide reusable plates and utensils for lunch.

Similar to water bottles, ask your crew to bring reusable travel mugs from home if they have them. If reusables are not feasible, request that the caterer avoid Styrofoam containers (they’re not recyclable), and prioritize paper products over plastic whenever possible. With reusables, one meal for 100 people prevents approximately 20 pounds of waste from being generated.

4. Recycling labels

Clear signage is critical for recycling bins on-set. Busy crew hardly take the time to glance at a bin much less read a sign, so your visuals need to describe exactly which materials are being collected in which bins.

5. Minimize printing and recycle paper

Purchase a minimum of 30% recycled-content paper (100% recycled-content paper is even better), and adjust margins and print double-sided to reduce paper use. Reuse single-sided printouts as a notepad or to tape up petty cash receipts.

Make a plan to recycle paper and keep it separate from other recycling to prevent contamination. According to the University of Southern Indiana, each ton of recycled paper can save 17 trees, 380 gallons of oil, three cubic yards of landfill space, 4,000 kilowatts of energy and 7,000 gallons of water.

6. Recycle cans and bottles

Separate cans and bottles for recycling. In many communities, these items can even be dropped at a recycling center for a cash redemption value. That extra money can be a bonus for the crew member tasked with managing the drop-off. Aluminum is 100% recyclable, and an aluminum beverage container can be recycled into a brand-new container within six weeks, according to the Tenenbaum Recycling Group.

7. Collect electronic waste

Used ink cartridges, batteries, light bulbs and other items like small electronics and their power cables contain toxic elements that don’t belong in the landfill. Collect these and plan to dispose of them appropriately. Ink cartridges can often be returned to the point of purchase for credit or refilling.

Use Earth911 to find places in your community that will accept these and many other items. Battery casings can disintegrate when they are not properly disposed of, allowing the toxic chemicals (acid, mercury, lead, etc.) to contaminate the soil and water, even accumulating in wildlife and humans.

Once you’ve mastered the above steps, challenge yourself to go further.

8. Donate Food

According to the National Resource Defense Council, one in seven people in the U.S. doesn’t know where their next meal will come from. Look into donating your untreated food styling or unplated catering food to a local homeless shelter or a group that feeds people in need. Try an organization like Food Finders in LA, or City Harvest in NYC to help facilitate the process.

There is a widely circulated story about the Los Angeles caterer who was sued after someone fell ill from eating their donated food. However, this problem has been alleviated by the Federal Good Samaritan Act, which allows liability-free donation of food to registered non-profit organizations.

In addition, decomposing food is the number-one material in U.S. landfills and pollutes more than all the cars in the state of Georgia—another great reason to donate food when you can.

9. Consider reused

Before shopping for new materials, consider sourcing recycled or repurposed items. If you’re in LA, visit the EcoSet Materials Oasis to receive free reused items. If you’re constructing, build with deconstruction and donation in mind, rather than demolition and discard.

Know of any other ways to keep your production clean and green? Tell us on our social channels. And if you want to start making a difference right away, sign up or log in to Staff Me Up to get your next gig and get on-set now!

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