The entertainment industry is a source of immense joy for those involved in the filmmaking process and those who consume media. But, the amount of waste produced on a set can outweigh the good produced by the making of the movie itself. Now more than ever, filmmakers and production companies are gearing toward zero-waste set design, which not only aims to reduce a negative environmental footprint, but wholly eliminate the majority of trash produced by a set altogether. 

Elements of Sustainable Design

Sustainable design requires a collection of conscious alterations to traditional film production. To create a sustainable set, you must:

Utilize eco-friendly building materials: Concrete and steel are not the end-all-be-all of building materials. Opt for green concrete, which contains a blend of traditional concrete components and waste items. You can also experiment with mass timber when creating custom floors, a durable solution that can effectively remove existing carbon dioxide. 
Reduce consumption of non-renewable energy sources: Transportation is a huge source of carbon emissions during production. Reduce transportation by utilizing locations for various scenes in your film and limiting the amount of travel overall. Encourage the use of public transportation and choose locations that offer accessible options for doing so.
Support and promote an overall healthy environment: There are multiple ways to make the filming environment a healthy one. You can make all areas of filming smoke-free, have an on-set compost bin, use digital collaboration tools, offer digital scripts, and encourage crew members to bring home-cooked meals for lunch.

Though there are more ways to design sets sustainable, incorporating these central elements into the production of a film is one of the best ways to navigate your zero-waste journey.

Zero-Waste, Sustainable Production Decision

There are tons of ways you can harness a zero-waste ideology to create a more sustainable filmmaking experience. Here are a few central ways you can alter the production experience to drastically reduce or eliminate waste on set.

Thrifted, donated, or costumes and props

Not all costumes must be made from scratch. You can find the perfect attire for your cast by perusing local thrift stores to capture the essence of the city or town you’re filming in. You can also encourage staff to bring pieces from their home that may work for the film. Another option would be to rent items instead of purchasing new ones. All these methods ensure the clothing is not simply thrown away once production has wrapped. Each item will be returned to its previous owner or can be resold or donated once more.

source: Mad Props, LLC

Eco-conscious Filming Locations

The best-set locations are places that surprise you. Sometimes, the perfect location is already equipped with everything you need to shoot. Choosing places like local bars, furnished homes, or grocery stores that do not require any additional set design prevents you from creating additional waste. 

You can even look for other notorious film locations that may be compatible with a scene without needlessly damaging a new location. If this isn’t possible for every scene, you should be cautious to avoid land where the environment and native species’ activity can be easily disrupted. Larger-budget films tend to have agreements with places to restore any damage they may have caused to the environment. Still, the best practice is to steer clear of any location that is sensitive to foot traffic or heavy machinery.

The Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers (2002) – source: New Line Cinema

No Packaged Foods

Much of the waste from film sets is generated from packaging, especially for food. To maintain a zero-waste environment, common snacks like chips or cookies should not be brought to the set. Snacks should be packaged in reusable Tupperware or biodegradable packaging. Staff and cast members should also be encouraged to shop locally for fresh foods like fruits and veggies, which pours into the economy of the filming location while eliminating the need for excessive packaging litter.

Limit Paper or Plastic Usage

When trying to decrease the use of paper and plastic, the most abundant items to eliminate are plastic water bottles and cutlery, along with paper plates and takeout boxes. Tap water is generally safe in many areas, but if you want to be extra cautious, purchasing a filtration system or a filtered, reusable water bottle is your best bet.

Set members should be encouraged to bring utensils from home as well, along with plates, mugs, and other items. For trash, choose a biodegradable trash bag instead of the traditional petrochemical plastic.

Health-conscious working conditions

Encouraging a healthy working environment allows zero-waste contributions to come much easier to your crew. Working hours can be incredibly long on set, sometimes exceeding 12-13 hours per day. Sleep, nutrition, and open communication are all factors that can affect the physical and mental health of everyone on set. Offer a variety of fresh, unprocessed foods on set that are allergy-friendly and conscious of any dietary restrictions.

More than this, you should make sure that each crew member is getting the rest they need to feel well during all stages of production. Poor sleep can lead to intense sugar and salt cravings, which can lead to your crew sneaking packaged junk snacks on set or looking for an extra strong coffee only available at the nearest Starbucks. It can also affect memory and concentration, which contributes to on-set mistakes and fumbles that may cause more unintended waste, like set design errors or tailoring troubles. Check-in with your crew members and assess their needs, leaving plenty of room for rest when needed.

Benefits of Zero-Waste Set Design

A zero-waste set isn’t just an opportunity to feel good about the production process — it is an opportunity to make real change. Below you’ll find a few of the most rewarding aspects of zero-waste set design.

Reduced Environmental Impact

Depending on the size of your project, a film can create nearly 500 tons of waste, much of which is not properly disposed of, creating environmental litter that negatively affects native animals, plant species, and the water supply. Maintaining a zero-waste set allows you to make a film you’re proud of without tainting your filming locations with garbage. The film Citywide, for example, was able to produce a film in three years with a total production waste of only 16 ounces by integrating a zero-waste mindset. Efforts like these allow us to make and enjoy entertainment sources ethically.

Movies and television shows influence their audiences, changing what they wear and how they act. When sustainable efforts are visible in all areas of your film, it can influence your viewers to act accordingly, vastly altering the amount of waste produced in areas other than film production.


Zero-waste set design can help you maximize your budget. Much of this practice includes using existing materials, which means you’re generally spending less money. Carpooling, thrifting, and reusable dishware from home all eliminate some of the highest carbon-emission-producing elements of filmmaking while doubling as a cost-effective sustainable solution.

Establishes bonding and camaraderie

Having a joint mission of sustainability is a simple way to bring your cast and crew together. It involves increased awareness of yourself and your relationships with others, along with encouraging collaboration. Zero-waste creates an opportunity for sharing and communication, with each member helping one another improve and stay sustainable by sharing dishware, clothing, transportation, and more.

What do you think? Is sustainability in set design important for the film industry’s future?

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