By Jessica Bates on March 16, 2010

New York-based Film Biz Recycling is revolutionizing film set reuse one production at a time. Founder Eva Radke tells 1-800-RECYCLING all about greening the film industry.

Film Biz Recycling, a nonprofit in New York City, takes donations from productions and film sets and finds ways to reuse the materials. By working with local charities and reuse facilities, Film Biz Recycling diverts used materials from landfills. Some of the donated material ends up for sale or rental in the prop house, which helps keep the business running. Eva Radke, President and founder of Film Biz Recycling, was kind enough to tell 1-800-RECYCLING of her successes and challenges in greening the film industry.

1-800-RECYCLING: What has the response been from the film industry?

Radke: Overall, very positive, but we should clarify what is meant by "the industry." It's a multifaceted industry with many gears in the machine. The response from most all of the New York crew has been tremendous! The people who do the work of designing, building, buying and creating materials are so glad Film Biz Recycling came along and do what we do: speaking out against the inherent wastefulness in the industry, and actually providing answers and solutions. Crews from around the world have contacted us saying how great they think it is and that they are glad that someone has actually done this.

Almost all the volunteers (2,200 in 2009) come from the business. More and more production companies are using us as a resource for information and services. Staffers say, "I'm so glad you are doing this!" The reaction I get the most is relief and gratitude because most industry folks want an end to the wastefulness, but are ill equipped, until now, to foster that change.

On the downside, the bigger studios and companies mistakenly believe adhering to local emissions laws is going green or that there is no financial incentive to go green in New York City, and consequently have not. They are getting along just fine monetarily and probably will not follow the example of leading initiatives, such as one of Warner Brothers' sound stages, which was built with sustainable and reused materials and is 100% solar powered. The LA studios, however, are making great strides! Kudos to Warner Brothers, Fox, Universal, Disney and Paramount for adopting green standards — solar-powered sound stages, one assigns an environmental steward to each production, most have a written set of "best practices" and I'm hearing about new advances every day. New York stages are sadly, sadly way behind. One, however, sponsors a green roof, and that's cool, but it's time to raise the bar in that arena.

Unfortunately, there are also a few organizations that propose green standards for filmmaking, but it's a vague, above-the-line prospective. They don't really understand the nuts and bolts of actually greening a production. Some of these organizations not only lack any true tools for process instruction, but also get proprietary, and that combination just pulls back the curtain on other agendas. Collaboration is the key to success in pushing forward in this arena, because all the parts have to work together.

1-800-RECYCLING: Film Biz Recycling does site visits to assess a set's environmental impact. What has been the simplest solution on sets to create a greener workspace?

Radke: Actually, we do not assess environmental impact. That would require third-party science-based evaluations, and we're just not that sophisticated or funded, frankly. I'll leave it to the consultants like Green Media Solutions to tackle that when the deep-pocketed clients want a carbon audit. I'm more concerned with reuse and recycling of more tangible items, education and illuminating the issues and creating solutions that will work in the trenches.

One of our strengths is that we can step in at any time and collaborate on a green strategy plan with the various departments. I prefer to begin work during the pre-production stage so we can establish green policies from the get-go, but I can also do so in the middle of shooting, when principal photography ends or when storage needs a green clean-out. Every step of the way, Film Biz Recycling can coach a production through the small changes, be the "green police" and help bridge the gap between new ideas and standard practices.

One example of a simple but effective idea is banning water bottles. Here's some math: 100 crew members x four bottles of water a day x 44 shoot days = 17,600 bottles of water.

What responsible productions are now doing are buying the crew refillable water bottles and providing water stations to refill. It's pretty simple, and what an embedded energy savings!

1-800-RECYCLING: What has been the most challenging creative solution that you've come up with to divert items from landfills?

Radke: New York is an expensive city and real estate is always at premium. Film Biz Recycling currently occupies a 2,600-square-foot raw space in Long Island City with a two-flight walk-up and no elevator. We could easily fill 20,000 square feet in three months with all that is offered directly to us, but what we have is all we currently can afford.

However, we have all kinds of huge, heavy items, from refrigerators to cars to sectional sofas, that come our way, and it's our job to find them a home. We laterally divert the items we cannot take to other reuse facilities, not-for-profits and similar organizations with a social or environmental mission. The challenge is to know what they take, when they accept items, whom to contact and other important parameters. So, essentially, we have become a broker from films to the reuse sector. It allows us to make sure 100% of what the productions have to offer find a home in a day or less.

1-800-RECYCLING: What is the biggest challenge that you face daily at Film Biz Recycling?

Radke: Well, we are a new business, a self-funded not-for-profit, in fact. In order to keep the lights on and make payroll, we run an amazing prop boutique to rent and sell to the industry and the public. Running a store with a small staff takes up a lot of time when you consider we answer the phone, receive donations, sort through donations, price and photograph, sell, rent, etc. Sometimes the busier we are (and no complaints, mind you), the less time I have to work on "The Mission," and "The Mission" is to find answers, alternative materials, new ideas and introduce the findings to the industry.

We diverted 72 tons of material in 2009, hired 20 freelance green workers, gave to 33 charities, etc., and that should be enough for me, but it's not. I want to be able to do all the things I want to do right now. But, first things are first when your idea has to pay for itself. All said, I'm impatient, so I am my biggest challenge!

1-800-RECYCLING: Is there any way for movie and TV watchers to tell if sets are environmentally responsible during and after filming?

Radke: No, and that actually is a big part of the problem, in my opinion. Onscreen, we can destroy New York City in 15 different ways, we can reproduce the Titanic to the smallest detail and sink it, we can have a stunt man jump out of a burning skyscraper in Hong Kong and get the shot, but the thought of composting on set makes people's heads spin. Well, if the shot depended on it, every production would have a compost bin since the Lumiere Brothers. In this business, it's the shot that matters. If we treated the earth with as much respect as we treat the shot, we'd be in better shape.

That's not to say that a lot of films recently have not shifted their sights to instilling sustainable practices. For instance, Focus Features has been a leader in hiring environmentally aware producers and crew and "green lighting" responsible practices, such as composting on A Serious Man, providing biodegradable food service items on Away We Go and donating set dressing elements from Taking Woodstock to us (and through us, other organizations). USA Network's White Collar had refillable logo water bottles distributed to crew members and exhibited a concerted effort to recycle on set.

1-800-RECYCLING: What are your goals and plans for 2010 and beyond?

Radke: We've got quite a list, to tell the truth.

  • "Be fruitful and multiply." Push our PR and outreach; see FBR become a leading shopping destination for New Yorkers and tourists alike.
  • See that every production knows how to donate instead of throw it away.
  • Move into a bigger warehouse.
  • Collaborate more with other industries.
  • See that flats and built sets find a sound and responsible end through reuse and/or deconstruction.
  • Get commercials caught up with film and television.
  • Get Film Biz Recycling's "The Practical Guide to a Greener Production" in every BlackBerry and iPhone — application out this summer!
  • Build an advisory board that will consist of the more influential and high-profile people, not just celebrities spouting "green" talk.

And in the future? I see Film Biz Recycling in every major filming city. We should look to extend our tools and practices to productions in Los Angeles, Chicago, Austin, New Orleans, London, Paris and beyond. The main idea can stay the same, but adapting the practices to fit each city is the challenge.

About the author

Jessica Bates is a freelance writer living in Southern California, and she holds degrees in both English and journalism. Jessica enjoys traveling, cooking without recipes, reading, taking pictures of weird plants, dancing to good music, eating pineapple, recycling and stretching her limbs.

In her undergraduate career, Jessica worked on the editorial board of Steel Toe Books selecting full-length poetry manuscripts for publication. She blogs about books, art, writing and sustainability on her website.

Jessica also writes for Hello Santa Monica, where she features local businesses, restaurants, events, attractions and breaking news.

Learn more about Jessica Bates


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