Have you ever marvelled at the latest Hollywood blockbuster but worried about what happened to the sets after the final wrap? Or watched Masterchef and wondered what they do with all the food waste?
If so, you are not alone. The film and TV production industry is a major player in the UK and, along with radio and photography, the sector generated around £10.8bn in 2014. Revenue from UK film and TV productions grew by nearly 50% between 2005 and 2014.
There has also been a rapid growth in the film and TV set recycling sector during the past five years, but from a very low starting point. A lot of material still ends up being discarded in skips, and waste management companies could find plenty of new opportunities in this burgeoning sector.
Lynn McFarlane is something of a pioneer. In 2011 she set up a Drèsd, a company dedicated to giving the broadcast industry a “cost-effective alternative to set waste being sent to landfill or waste to energy”. She co-ordinates with film, TV and production companies to divert materials from dismantled sets for reuse and remanufacture.
“The tonnage varies from production to production,” she says. “A feature film can be up to 500 tonnes or a television production might be 45 tonnes. In a year we can deal with around 50,000 tonnes. I would say 90% of this would be repurposed and the remaining 10% is landfilled – probably because there will be something that is contaminated.
“One production was quoted from a clearance company as needing 200 skips. We reduced that job down to nine.”
Drèsd deals with a wide range of materials and props. “We get some odd things,” says McFarlane. “The most challenging recently has been rocks from the film Everest. They are [made of] polystyrene but tremendously big and hard to move – each boulder is about 30ft high and 30ft wide and there are three of them.”
McFarlane started out specialising in interior design and upcycling products from waste materials. Her work caught the eye of Livia Firth, who runs the Eco-Age sustainability consultancy along with her husband, actor Colin Firth. Working in this new environment, McFarlane says she soon realised there was a problem within the film industry.
“I investigated what services were out there to combat the enormous waste, only to find there were no options other than skips. I put together a plan to provide a service to enable us to recycle materials. This was recognised by Universal Studios as a good idea, and I then went on to establish a business.”
She said it took a couple of years before the industry accepted the need to change its ways: “[Film is] a very old industry, a lot of people have worked in it for a very long time and changing mind-sets towards how they dispose of materials was quite a battle. Also, the time frame of a production means everything is on a strict schedule – budgets depend on the space they are using and availability of the actors. We have to work around that.
“We now not only dispose of the waste in an ethical way, but we also de-rig the sets and take them away as soon as filming has finished.”
Any props that can be reused are held in storage and made available for other productions. Drèsd generally works with local waste companies and also donates materials to charities, colleges and community groups. For example, one production included a rock-climbing wall which was donated to a rock climbing company rather than being ditched. Drèsd also works with a team of designers to use the recycled material for office interior design, sets for events and other clients.
“We usually try to donate within the local area rather than transporting things like furniture,” says McFarlane. “We identify what will be of use to the industry as props and designate that for the prop house area. Good, reusable plastics can be things like Perspex. And then there are windows and doors which all go into the props section and are available for reuse.
“Then we have the waste materials such as wood, cardboard and metals. Local farmers benefit because we end up with so much wood. We let them know when we’re on a job and they can come to our yard at any time and take what they like for building fences, chicken houses and the like. There is nothing wrong with the wood – it has been stored indoors for three months and then not used any more.”
After experiencing year-on-year growth, Drèsd now has a number of premises, including a large storage space and workshop in Essex, office space in Pinewood Studios and a prop house in Bottle Yard Studios, Bristol. It has just moved into a site in Cardiff, which will be its main base. It currently has five staff members, and relies on employment agencies depending on where in the UK its services are required.
Many of the issues McFarlane has identified as being important to boosting recycling – such as on-site segregation and better design for disassembly and reuse – are true of all industries. She also describes a reluctance among set designers to develop more sustainable productions because “there is no law that tells them they must”.
“It’s all down to the production team. If the producer or director is keen for recycling to take place, then the art director and line managers will all follow suit.”
The need for industry-wide initiatives is clear and Albert, for TV at least, fulfils that role. The project began life in 2009 at the BBC in an attempt to encourage productions to be more aware of their environmental footprint. The BBC then gifted the project to Bafta, which has since been rolling it out.
Albert publishes guidance, provides training and runs a certification scheme for productions. Around 400 production companies have now signed up, and services are offered for free thanks to a consortium of 13 media giants including the BBC, ITV and Sky that funds the scheme. Although much progress has been made, Aaron Matthews, Albert’s industry sustainability manager, warns that “we’re still scratching the surface”.
“With all of our sign-ups it comes down to individuals within a company who is keen to take [recycling] forward. Now, if you’re making a programme for Sky or UKTV, say, you have to do a carbon impact assessment.”
The nature of the production business means TV and film crews are mostly an assembly of freelancers, and people work for a company only for a short time before moving on to another project. This makes it difficult to get the recycling message across, but a number of actors and others within the industry are committed environmentalists. The Albert ambassadors’ scheme harnesses this energy and puts it to good use.
“They are often identified when going through our certification process – we find someone who really ‘gets it’,” says Matthews. “They are people we can call on to talk at events and be the face of the project. They’re not environmental experts, just people who work in film and TV who understand the importance of sustainability. The message is put across much better from people within the industry than from external sustainability consultants.”
Another key scheme is Albert+ certification. This awards productions up to three stars on their sustainability performance, and it is proving to be a positive influence for dozens of programmes.
The BBC’s EastEnders was commended by Albert for setting up its own sustainability team. Series co-ordinator Suzanne Dolan says: “Members of the team took the Carbon Literacy training course – it really inspired us and we’re working hard to cut carbon and waste. We recycle costumes and sets, we’ve changed working practices to cut the amount of paper we use and we’re saving 2,500 DVDs by issuing rushes online.
“We are proud to have just achieved our three stars from the Albert+ certification scheme, but know there are even more ambitious and exciting changes on the horizon.”
SUSTAINABILITY STANDARD BS8909
British Standards Institution standard on film environmental management and sustainability
Launched with the help of actor Colin Firth in 2011, BS8909 is a specification for sustainability management in the film industry. It has been described as a “comprehensive framework” to encourage film companies to address the environmental, social and economic effects of their work.
Johnny English Reborn was one of the first film productions to implement the standard. Its director, Oliver Parker, says: “Whether you’re talking sustainability or not, there’s enormous wastage in the film business – there is a great opportunity to try and reduce the costs, and this is a way of starting that argument. Attitude alteration is crucial.”
A number of other schemes and industry-specific recycling companies are out there. The consultancy Greenshoot, based at Pinewood, was set up in 2009 to promote sustainable productions. Its Green Screen scheme offers “simple, practical and cost-saving environmental plans”, and assesses film productions before certifying them with an “environmental stamp”.
A stones-throw away from Pinewood , Buckinghamshire-based Scenery Salvage claims to recycle 95% of sets and props, and its clients include EastEnders and Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Take Away. Useful set pieces such as doors and windowsare photographed, catalogued and put on its Salvage Stock List for resale to the industry. The remaining scenery is then segregated and recycled through alliances with “some of the major recycling companies in Europe”. The company also has premises in Manchester and boasts being powered by a biomass facility.
There is also a BSI standard for sustainability in the industry. But despite all this, recycling remains a relatively piecemeal affair. Matthews thinks more should be done strategically and collaboratively between productionsso “everyone isn’t doing it on their own”.
“Currently we’re essentially firefighting and recycling what we can, where we can,” he says. “What makes it difficult, even in larger production studios, is that they have to sort out their own waste contracts. There is no centralised system, so the likelihood of things being dealt with properly is much lower.
“The waste that comes out of a production is fairly standardised. We just need some proposals [from waste management companies] to say how this could work commercially.”
WHAT TV PRODUCTIONS ARE DOING TO RECYCLE
Series 10 of this long-running cookery competition was awarded a maximum three stars by the Albert+ certification scheme for the production’s distribution of unused food to charity, using low-emission vehicles and reducing the energy demands of the studio.
Albert says the CBBC team took great steps to reduce the programme’s environmental footprint, culminating in a piece to camera about the show’s new badge, which is now made from recycled plastic.
This BBC production moved to an “almost paperless” working environment. Producer Claire Bennett says: “I found very little resistance from the crew to our double-sided scripts and schedules. They take a little getting used to but, on balance, people appreciate having less paper.
“Next time around I’ll definitely have an ‘opt in’ policy, so that paper scripts, schedules and call sheets have to be requested rather than automatically issued. There seems to be less and less need as technology develops.”
Shooting in London rather than the Fox Studio lot in Los Angeles, the 24 team encouraged sustainable working, including the reuse of materials and resources in the special effects, catering, make-up and stunt departments. The team donated a significant amount of materials at the end of production, owing in part to careful planning.
BBC olympics coverage
BBC Olympics coverage
Presenters have been sitting on the same sofa across the globe for the past six years. The prefab studio set used by the BBC at the recent Rio Olympics started life at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. It was also used at the 2012 London Olympics.