By Matt Borkowski with additional comments by Aurelie “Green” Jezequel – Illustrations by Erin Lynch.
It can be assumed that a fair amount of resources will be unnecessarily wasted in the course of any high-budget shoot. Now, from a professional and practical perspective, your good intentions might not be enough to get you to purchase reusable tin water bottles in order to prevent plastic bottles on set. In an industry where the most basic supplies—such as batteries and printer inks—routinely fall by the wayside or are irresponsibly disposed of, and with little time while shooting to think about your carbon footprint, the risk of creating unnecessary waste looms large. We wanted to see what industry professionals are doing to work in a more environmentally friendly way. We polled members of the photographic world, from casting directors to producers and (of course) photographers. Here’s what they had to say.
FOOD, DRINKS AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN
We’ve found that the guiltiest culprit of all material (and environmental) waste is the dreaded plastic water bottle. We’ve all been there: on set during a hard day’s work, you pick up a bottled water, crack it open for a quick gulp, and then promptly forget it. At the end of the day, it’s not unusual to see a veritable population of half-empty water bottles scattered around. Several of our interviewees suggested imposing a “one bottle or cup a day” rule, though this would be pretty damn difficult to keep track of or enforce. Another common suggestion was to use a Sharpie to label the bottles; some go so far as to tie the pen to the cooler as a friendly (or not?) reminder to do so. You can also have a water cooler and give crew and clients reusable bottles—like the Bobble, the Love Bottle, or EarthLust. Some of them can even be customized with your logo, turning a green action into a cool marketing move. Another notable initiative is Give a Glass, an organization that sells reusable glass bottles and gives part of its profit to Water Partners, a NGO committed to bringing safe drinking water to people in developing countries.
An easier (albeit imperfect) solution is using mini water bottles. Producers Desiree Kennedy and Lynn Del Mastro have both added them to their request sheets for shoots. Several bottling companies have started producing these six-ounce bottles mainly for children, but Kennedy and Del Mastro find them to be the perfect portion to fully hydrate an adult without leaving a drop of water in the bottle. Mini soda cans follow the same logic. While the mini versions won’t exactly be the saving grace in cutting down on waste, they are certainly a fair attempt. Some catering companies like Noz in NY offer “paper” water bottles, which are also a good option. Whenever feasible, replace plastic utensils and plates with real plates and silverware, or hire caterers who choose green alternatives such as cardboard plates and recycled plastic utensils—they might sound awful to use but they do the job just as well as their plastic counterparts.
An important step is for the crew (and clients!) to respect and use recycling bins. Most studios have them (Bath House is one NYC studio which does, among others) and placing your empty mini water bottle in a plastic recycling bin is easy to do. Chances are people recycle at home, so why do some stop caring when they get on set? Advertising and editorial photo shoots can get over-the-top fanciful but that does not excuse having a “let them eat cake” attitude and throwing the silverware in the trash (you know someone is going to have to fish for it at the end of the shoot!).
Leftover catering food was a concern for a few of our polled professionals. You should always ask your caterer to provide take-away boxes so the crew can take home whatever was not eaten during the shoot. While homeless shelters will not accept leftover food, your local hobo will: put together some take-away boxes and give them to people in need on your way home. On food shoots, where you can end up with 500 unopened packages of mashed potatoes and 300 tomato soup cans, just call a food bank or local shelter—if the donation is big enough, they will even come pick it up!
Another major type of waste on set is tech waste—specifically batteries and printer ink cartridges, both of which are harmful to the environment. Many of our polled photographers use rechargeable batteries for gear like Pocketwizards. John Engstrom told us that his company, Sheimpflüg Digital, has been able to cut its alkaline consumption by 90% this way.
Another way is to go digital. Rick Colson of EcoVisualLab suggests turning to a well-calibrated monitor rather than printing proofs with harmful solvent-based inks. “I often help my clients set up for soft-proofing and provide [color] profiles to minimize the need for hard proofs,” says Colson. Check out the EcoVisualLab Facebook page where Colson posts green imaging tips and links every few days.
SET SUPPLIES, PROPS, ETC…
Scheimpflug donates unused seamless to Material for the Arts, a New York City organization that provides art supplies to schools and community art programs. Many cities across the country offer this kind of program, so look around for one in your area.
Paint cans can be saved for later use or donated. Other supplies that can be reused or recycled are walls (8’ x 12’s and such) and scrap wood. Brooklyn-based Film Biz Recycling sets out to find use for leftover props. Working with movie, TV and still productions, they get props, wardrobe and furnishings from shoots and sell them to fund their educational efforts or donate them to art programs and local businesses. They also help producers plan to repurpose or recycle materials ahead of time.
EcoSet started in North Hollywood and helps video and commercial producers with eco-management. From handing out reusable water bottles to recycling trash and donating leftover supplies, EcoSet formulates and implements a cohesive plan to make your shoot greener.
Countless trees are killed every year to end up in production books that no one really looks at after the pre-production meeting. Try switching to an online version and only print and distribute the essential call sheet info. Print on both sides of the pages or, better yet, create an “eco-book.” Jim Hui, Producer at Accordion Films explains, “The eco-book is printed in booklet form (an 8.5 x 11page folded in half) and printed double sided, thus using 25% of the paper as with regular books. And it doesn’t requite a plastic binder. You can print the booklet on any standard printer directly from your computer, you just need to download a plugin for creating booklet pdfs.” At the end of the shoot, gather all layouts, call sheets, and other documents scattered around the set and shred or recycle them.