Soon after beginning my personal zero-waste journey, I was surprised to start noticing so much single-use plastic on TV and in movies. But in a world where it’s becoming the norm for people to carry around a reusable water bottle and grocery tote bags, shouldn’t what we see on-screen match?
Turns out, I’m not the only environmentalist to be annoyed by this — Sheila Morovati, the founder and president of nonprofit Habits of Waste, was so bothered by all the disposable plastic bags, cutlery, straws, and more in the media that she recently started the “Lights, Camera, Plastic?” campaign. The campaign aims to convince TV and film productions to opt for reusable, eco-friendly alternatives to single-use plastic on-screen.
“It's been proven that there's a direct correlation between human behavior and what we see on-screen,” Morovati, who has a background in sociology, tells Green Matters exclusively on a recent phone call. “It is like a chicken and an egg situation, where the films are trying to emulate society, but society is emulating what they see on film, their favorite actors, and what they're holding in their hand, and what they're wearing, and what they're doing. Just look at smoking. It's the same thing.”
Morovati has worked on many other successful waste-reduction campaigns — including #CutOutCutlery and #ShipNaked — but as long as the public is surrounded with shows normalizing single-use plastic, she worries that it will hinder all of these campaigns from making progress.
“Every time I turn on the TV, I think, all these ordinances are going to go nowhere, as we keep on seeing plastic each time we watch TV and think it’s OK,” she says. “We're here to disrupt that cycle and contact all the guilds and let everyone who makes up the magic of Hollywood understand that what they put on the screen matters and is impacting our planet.”
In addition to contacting the guilds about participating in the initiative, Habits of Waste has created downloadable resources for productions, including posters to hang on set and watermarks that can be added to scripts that state “go reusable on camera.” Additionally, Habits of Waste has created a shared Google Doc for directors, designers, news correspondents, and anyone else in the industry to share ideas for getting the word out.
While this campaign focuses on the on-screen plastic, Morovati has an insider secret on the film industry: the off-screen plastic is even worse. “The plastic usage off-screen, behind the scenes, at craft services, is horrific. Have you seen how much we're throwing away? It’s awful,” she says, while acknowledging that the COVID-19 pandemic has understandably made reducing that waste more difficult.
That said, the reason Morovati is focused on the on-screen plastic rather than off-screen plastic is because what’s seen on-screen affects “millions if not billions of viewers who are watching and impacting society as a whole.” Additionally, “it's a lot easier to tell the same story, share the same narrative with reusables,” she says.
If you work in the industry, feel free to download Habits of Waste’s free “Lights, Camera, Plastic?” graphics, and make sure they get into the hands of the right people — that could be the director, production assistants, producers, set designer, prop master, or costume designer.