“The future of all life now depends on us”

The cinema industry isn’t alone in impacting on the environment, but we’re in a privileged position to drive change, argues CT production editor Alastair Balmain


Well it’s a pretty stark headline, but those words actually belong to Sir David Attenborough — and if you haven’t seen the final episode of his “Blue Planet II” series, do watch it. The footage of marine life is staggering, but the scenes of man-made waste and pollutants choking our oceans are decidely sobering. Thanks to that documentary, our blinkers have been removed and, rather belatedly, the world can now see why a plastic drinking straw is the devil’s own utensil.


As a consequence, corporations are eager to show how responsible they are. Disney, for example, has commendably announced plans to eliminate single-use plastic straws and stirrers at all its owned and operated locations by the middle of next year. That’s encouraging for Nemo, but the issue goes further — and our industry can lead on this. On pages 30-35, we explore some of the ways in which it does.


There are myriad commercial, financial and logistical reasons with which we can defend the use of packaging in the F&B sector, but we must acknowledge that to sustain our businesses, the concessions stands alone generate a sizeable amount of waste. Do we as an industry care sufficiently about the resources we use, or is this merely the collateral damage of our business? And what has this got to do with cinema technology…? Well, if ever there was a case for the application of inspiring technological solutions, the reduction of our impact on the environment is clearly it.


To labour a slightly heavy-handed metaphor, plastic straws are the tip of the iceberg. Air conditioning, hard drive deliveries, lighting and lamps, transport connections to venues, construction materials, posters, water use — what in our world wouldn’t benefit from thoughtful technological solutions to help reduce our impact?


Soon after the plastic straw hullabaloo, Starbucks proudly announced a new range of strawless plastic lids. Though it sounds like robbing plastic Peter to pay plastic Paul, given the recyclable nature of the new lid’s materials, it is arguably a step forward. More impressive is Starbuck’s $10million investment in the NextGen Cup Challenge, which seeks to develop a fully recyclable and compostable hot cup — but this is a topic that really shouldn’t be driven by PR positivity. Fluff it up, call it corporate social responsibility if you like, but this is a simple case of doing the right thing.


As a species, we’re addicted to consumption, but if a trip to our venues is as influential as we tell everyone it is, especially to younger visitors, then we must be demonstrably responsible about buckets, straws, cups and wrappers. At CineEurope in June, Coca-Cola showcased its reduce, re-use, recycle campaigns. This, and initiatives like them, are a huge start. Cinema’s place should be in the vanguard of the circular economy, not facilitating a throwaway culture. For every customer who jettisons a non-recyclable plastic-lined cup three foot from a bin, there’s five more who’d happily choose to drink from a re-useable, returnable, recyclable glass or cup — if only they were encouraged to do so.


If you believe the object of this column is to make our industry feel immensely guilty, you’re wrong. It’s a reminder that cinemas are in a prime position to help effect change.