Earth Day is a natural reminder to think about our daily approach to sustainability and recycling. But when so much of our day-to-day is spent on set, the good habits we practice at home don’t always translate. Though we still have a long ways to go toward zero waste on set, we’ve managed to incorporate some key Earth-friendly practices into our productions that are worth sharing. These are just a few small actions that can make a big impact.
Replace Plastic Bottles With a Water Dispenser
In 2018 we decided to start being intentional about sustainability on set. Replacing plastic water bottles was one of the first things we did. Now, we encourage people to bring their own reusable bottles with them, and have stainless steel bottles on hand if anyone forgets. Our team typically drinks about 5 gallons of water a day on set — the equivalent of 52 plastic water bottles per day. One flat of water is $4.99; 60 bottles was costing us $24.95. Our five-gallon jug? $7. Period. We’re saving $17.96 each day. And, people are actually drinking it. We used to pick up so many half-empty bottles and throw them away. It may requires a little extra effort, but it’s really important; and, our crew tends to be excited about getting one step closer to zero-waste. Now, we’re eliminating so much waste, it’s refreshing.
Replace Disposable Table Cloths With Reusable
For on-set meals, we used to use disposable tablecloths — the kind that are $2 at Party City. I remember thinking it was dumb that we were constantly buying so many — probably 15 a week — but at such a low cost and so easy for clean-up, they always made the list. A few months back, we made the switch to heavy-duty reusable tablecloths. We bought 12 of them at about $25 each. It is an investment up front, but we were easily spending $30 a week on disposable tablecloths, so we’ve already returned on it. (Tip: It took us a while to find a good quality tablecloth that was actually durable, so here’s a link to the one we bought. For a 6-foot table, the best size is 54” x 84”.) We tend to use almost all of them each shoot day, cleaning and sanitizing after each meal, and at the end of the day. Then, we neatly fold them and store them so they’re ready for the next shoot.
Request Reusable Chafers and Serveware from our Catering Partners
For all of our caterers, we request that they use reusable chafers and dishes instead of all that aluminum foil and disposable serveware. Instead of throwing it all away, they come back to collect it after each meal: breakfast serveware is collected when they drop off lunch, and lunch is collected mid-afternoon. Reusable chafers do cost a tiny bit more than disposable, and most caterers typically charge about $100 for the pick-up. But think of all the aluminum that we’re not throwing away, and it does make for a really nice presentation.
What’s Next: Composting
Most of the food that’s left over from catering, we’re able to send home with people. (Tip: If you need a resource for donating leftover food (that’s unopened) in Chicago, Deborah’s Place gladly accepts drop off donations.) But there are of course the odd half-finished plates that go to waste, and the uncoated paper plates themselves. Composting is next on our list**, so we are in the beginning stages of a partnership with Collective Resource, based in Evanston. They provide a food-scrap pickup service, liase with a commercial composting facility, and charge by volume, plus pick-up and drop-off fees. We’ve been enjoying learning about how easy (and influential) composting on set can be, and are excited to make this our new norm.
We’re always looking for new ways to cut down our waste. So if you or your crew have tips and tricks to share, we’d love to hear them. Leave a comment, or reach out by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
**Update: on May 7th, 2019 we officially started composting on set.