Recycling in the Film Industry

We at Vangel think that companies and organizations which put forth the extra effort and demonstrate sustainable practices should be celebrated and encouraged.

Recently, some influential entities in the film industry were honored for putting forth that extra effort in the form of the Golden Dumpster Award. The first annual Golden Dumpster Awards commenced on May 11th 2013 and Honorees included NBC’s 30 Rock, for largest amount of TV series set dressing, props and wardrobe tonnage – 10.74 tons – diverted from the dumpster to donations for the public good, and Focus Features, another arm of NBC Universal, for diverting 33.68 cumulative tons of film materials to creative reuse since 2008.

A special “Roll of the Dice” award was presented to Big Beach Films who values green filmmaking and has practiced sustainability measures on several of their latest productions. Others honorees included Materials for the Arts, Brite Shot and Green Product.

Hosting the Golden Dumpster Awards was Film Biz Recycling, a non-profit organization which, since its inception in 2008, has diverted approximately 800,000 lbs. (nearly 400 tons) of materials from the NYC waste stream. A summary of the highlights of the Golden Dumpster Awards happenings can be found here.

The film industry definitely has some unique recycling needs and Film Biz Recycling is meeting them head-on. What about some other industries with unique recycling needs?

Some Other Unique Recycling Needs

According to the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory, the three major sources of wood waste in the United States are municipal solid waste, construction and demolition activities, and wood residues from lumber manufacturing facilities. The amount of wood waste which is recoverable compared to the amount that is being recovered varies between industries but it is clear that more could be done to deviate wood waste from the waste stream. In the following chart from Cornell University’s College of Human Ecology website, the amounts of wood waste recoverable vs. recovered are compared.


Wood Waste Generated*

Amount Potentially Recoverable

Amount Currently Being Recovered



7.5 (30%)

no estimate available

Municipal Solid Waste


7.4 (60%)

1.3 (9%)

New Construction, Remodeling, & Repair


5.9 (88%)

no estimate available

Lumber Mfg.**


82.1 (100%)

77.4 (94%)

*In millions of tons
** Bark residues are not included in these figures

To meet the need for wood waste recycling, companies must seek out wood recycling facilities or use a specialized company like Carbon Cultures. Carbon Cultures has found a way to turn wood waste into charcoal. The charcoal, called biochar, is created by heating wood at high temperatures in a low-oxygen environment to prevent combustion. The rich chemical content improves nutrient retention in soil, captures water and reduces greenhouse gas emissions, among other benefits. Their customers include farmers, gardeners, or any other customer looking to improve their soil. Carbon Cultures has found a way to divert waste from landfills and reuse the material in a new, beneficial way.

In addition to turning recycled wood waste into biochar some researchers are developing ways to turn it into fuel. Southern Cross University’s Forestry Department is working on a pilot program which will turn worthless wood waste into diesel. Although the program is still in the beginning stages, Dr. Palmer who heads the research team says that the prospects are bright and the outcome positive for Northern Rivers industry.

Another industry which has unique recycling needs is the auto industry. Since 1943, The Automotive Recycler’s Association has been ensuring that roughly 86% of the material components of U.S. cars are recycled or reused after those cars are off the road.  According to CNN, Automakers are among the most efficient corporate recyclers in the U.S but despite the fact that, according to the EPA, auto recyclers prevent 25 million tons of materials from reaching landfills, 5 million tons still get trashed.

Vehicles make up a large amount of waste in the United States. According to Wikipedia:

  • The typical passenger car consists of about 65 percent steel and iron, by weight. Also, car bodies typically are made 25 percent of recycled steel.[2]

  • Recycling one ton of steel conserves 2500 pounds of iron ore, 1400 pounds of coal and 120 pounds of limestone.[2]

  • Approximately 10 million vehicles are recycled annually.[4]

  • Cars are the number one recycled product in the United States.

The EPA recently issued clarification that will allow the recycling of plastics from “shredder aggregate.”  Not to be confused with shredding for data destruction, shredder aggregate is the product from the very last step in recycling an automobile.  Anything remaining from the automobile that has not been removed for recycling is shred into very small pieces and is waste.  It consists of bits of plastics, glass, rubber, foam, wood etc.  Companies are getting better every day at removing the trace metals to make sure that no metal goes to the landfill but plastic has been a problem.  According to a Baltimore area recycler, the EPA’s decision will finally allow for the process of research and development to begin to find a use for the aggregate plastic residue.  Once there is a use – a market – for the material, companies can afford to invest in removal technologies.  Since the plastic component of this residue is about 15%, this may help divert and additional 750,000 tons from landfills.

It’s great to see companies like Film Biz Recycling, Carbon Cultures and The Automotive Recyclers Association meeting these specialized and unique recycling needs. Additionally, pilot programs which explore new and innovative ways to recycle materials are so important and will lead the way for the recycling practices of the future. Do you know of any other industries which have unique needs like these? Let us know in the comments.