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Silver Screens Need to Go Green

When the lights come on after the credits have rolled, one is used to seeing coated paper cups, popcorn boxes, 3D glasses, sweet wrappers and ticket stubs strewn about the cinema. With hundreds of thousands going to cineplexes to help Hollywood blockbusters break box office records, you can only imagine how much waste is being produced every day, week and month. What happens to this packaging and waste between screenings and where does it all end up?

Cineplexes are starting to gravitate towards employing green initiatives. For instance, it's reported that the Linway Cinema in Goshen, Indiana have adopted a pioneering recycling programme, are reducing their carbon footprint through energy efficient technologies, reducing their water consumption and using environmentally friendly cleaning products. They are doing this by recycling beverage bottles, cardboard, batteries and bulbs, while installing low demand toilets and energy efficient light fixtures.

Silver Screens Need to Go Green - Movie Theatres Recycling

Movie theatres have predictable waste streams, which means that they are much more in control of what gets consumed and the means by which it gets consumed... So why aren't more adopting eco-friendly policies around waste management and going green in an age when reducing, reusing and recycling is becoming necessary rather than nice.

In South Africa, many malls and businesses are using recycling bins at various exchanges and encouraging customers to separate their waste. This shows some promise, but whether consumers are complying or not is another story. What can and can't be recycled is a big part of the reason why many of these recycling bins become contaminated with non-recyclable waste and ultimately fail, or become unmanageable.

When asked about their recycling policies... Nu Metro and Ster-Kinekor, the two biggest cinema chains in South Africa, weren't able to or failed to comment. Visiting a number of their cinema sites, chances are you won't find recycling bins. They also continue to use plastic lids and straws in their drinks and from the looks of their general refuse bags, it seems as though there isn't a recycling policy at play. Whether they're using waste management services who take care of the sorting and recycling of these bags at their numerous cineplexes across the country remains to be seen. Their silence on the matter would suggest that recycling and green initiatives are not a priority right now.

As a concerned global citizen living in a city that has been forced to become environmentally-conscious during an on-going water crisis, it's becoming clear that we need to be pro-active rather than re-active. While Cape Town's water-saving initiatives could have been implemented years ago, let's hope that this learning can be applied across the environmental spectrum and serve as an example.

Consumers have the purchasing power and leverage to demand change, whether immediate or gradual, from the companies they support. Businesses that adopt better environmental policies realise it's not only good from a public relations point-of-view, but leads the way for other businesses and creates awareness about issues that will have both direct and far-reaching consequences for everyone.

For movie theatre chains, reverse engineering their controlled environments can force their product suppliers to comply and hopefully result in massive savings in terms of packaging, printer ink, electricity and water utilities. Moreover, introducing in-house discount programmes could result in more effective marketing and customer loyalty.

Here are some simple ideas that movie theatres can employ in order to recycle, reduce waste, minimise their carbon footprint and become more energy-efficient.

Lids and straws...

Most plastic lids and straws are non-recyclable and are thought to take between 450 and 1000 years to decompose. Many local restaurants are opting to serve beverages with glass or paper straws, or in some cases not openly offering or forcing customers to rely on the plastic variant. Movie theatres would probably argue that they serve drinks in cups with plastic lids and straws in order to prevent spills and cut down on cleaning costs. An effective solution would be to provide recyclable paper cups, compostable lids and paper straws - products that would become cheaper the more mainstream they become.

Recyclable cups or bottles...

Some coffee stores provide their customers with the option of using or buying a Keepcup, a product which enables coffee drinkers to return with their own cup and receive a discount instead of having the store provide a takeaway cup or be required to wash their own cups. Surely cinemas could employ a similar tactic, using it as a branding exercise and as a way for customers to get a discount on confectionery stand items, which already have a substantial markup? Or if they aren't already, using compostable drink cups could make all the difference without having to do away with the traditional soda fountain machines.

Cardboard boxes...

While most cardboard boxes should be recyclable, something should be said about the amount of popcorn that gets wasted. Filling the box to the brim makes it look more generous to have popcorn spilling out, but it would be far more sensible for the full line to be a few centimetres down. While it may not look as pleasing to the eye, it'd be much easier to carry and would result in fewer spills. Allowing patrons to opt for half a box of popcorn could also reduce the waste.

Reuse 3D glasses...

Films like Avatar may have been good for creating awareness around the environment on a subconscious level but were also responsible for introducing millions of pairs of 3D glasses. While IMAX boast that their glasses can be washed up to 500 times, most 3D glasses are only used and washed a few times. Cinemas charge a nominal fee to include 3D glasses as part of the offering, but they should rather be charging a refundable deposit for glasses that are returned for recycling and repackaging. Or failing that, encouraging cinema goers to make use of their 3D glasses several times before recycling them. Damaged 3D glasses can be reduced to pellets for use in the plastic industry but with the continued growth of 3D films, it seems almost necessary for cinemas to offer high-quality 3D glasses that people would want to keep indefinitely.

E-tickets instead of ticket stubs...

Some cinema chains such as Ster-Kinekor have toyed with the idea of using QR code tickets. These coded signatures are scanned before moviegoers enter the cinema instead of tearing the ticket stub. For some reason, the ticketing kiosks and online systems still force you to print paper tickets instead of giving you the option to have it sent to your smartphone. If many event companies are providing users with digital tickets that can be scanned off their smartphone or tablet, why is this not being implemented to save on printing and reduce waste at cinemas?

Recycling bins...

Providing recycling bins and signs is only half the solution as education plays an important part in effecting a sustainable recycling system. However, once movie goers are sure that by contributing to the system they're actually making a difference - it can gradually become as much a part of social culture as going to the movies.