The massive contributor to climate change you never think about… but is right in front of your eyes
There is nothing quite like unwinding from a long day with a bag of chips (or chocolate, equal snack opportunist here), a cozy couch, and a real good Netflix binge.
Screen time is society’s premier choice of escapism. Science has proven it too. According to studies, watching TV and video stimulates neurons associated with pleasant relaxation and cognitive capacity, which essentially means taking one’s mind of things. It’s no wonder that by the time we’re 65 you and I will have both spent nearly nine years glued to a screen. And that’s leaving out social media. Chills.
With such an incredible amount of time spent watching TV, it would only make sense that some of the behaviors we see onscreen translate into our real lives. According to Franklin Fearing, PhD, “there are profoundly important relationships between motion pictures and human behavior.” When the original “Scenes from a Marriage” premiered in 1973, divorce rates in Sweden climbed. In first grade, I spent about a week whispering stealth missions into my Timex after seeing Spy Kids. And on a serious note, media reinforces a much more problematic yet socially accepted behavior – single-use plastics.
One million plastic bottles are discarded per minute, 500 million plastic straws are discarded per day, and 40 billion pieces of plastic cutlery are discarded per year.
That’s where Habits of Waste comes in. The LA-based nonprofit’s mission is to clean up the planet one “habit of waste” at a time. And they’re getting noticed for it, having been featured in Forbes, Buzzfeed, the LA Times, and several other major publications. What particularly caught my attention was their “Lights, Camera, Plastic” initiative, whose goal is to denormalize society’s use of single-use plastics by significantly reducing their presentation in film.
As an entrepreneur in the sustainable fashion space, I’m acutely aware of how compelling the evidence is surrounding fast fashion’s harmful effects on our planet. But we rarely talk about Hollywood’s role in climate change.
I came across Habits of Waste in the same way most do these days, Instagram. I boldly slid in the DM and was fortunate enough to *virtually* sit down with Garett Larivee, Habits of Waste’s Development Outreach Manager. Our conversation illuminated why “Lights, Camera, Plastic” is so critical and how it’s already created impact. More importantly, Garett shares how every individual can feel empowered to make positive change. Spoiler: it’s not as hard as you think.
Some questions and responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Why were you inspired to start Habits of Waste?
Our Founder Sheila Morovati’s work in sustainability started with collecting like-new restaurant crayons destined for landfill and recycling them into underfunded schools to support access to art education. While visiting restaurants to collect these crayons, she noticed how many straws for drinks were delivered to tables without customers even requesting them. This led her to spearhead the nation’s first single-use plastic straw ban in Malibu and launch Habits of Waste to help inspire individuals to make small, but impactful, changes to their own habits. Later, this turned into the launch of habitsofwaste.org and continued to build on efforts to protect the planet by reducing daily “habits of waste”.
You’re in an elevator with Great Thunberg; how do you tell her about Habits of Waste?
I would tell Greta that we have solutions here at HoW that would really allow people to make their voice heard within minutes of entering our website. Let’s harness that power and really put pressure on the corporations and legislators by emailing and contacting everyone in a position of power.
Tell me the story behind Lights, Camera, Plastic? How did you come to identify the excessive use of single-use plastics in Hollywood?
We have worked so hard to create so many new laws and bans on single-use plastics however, despite all this effort, we turn on our televisions and we are bombarded with images of our favorite actors consuming something out of a single-use plastic item. This subliminally sends the message to an audience of billions that single-use plastics are acceptable, safe and that production teams condone this.
Our goal is to stop the tap and to change the way society thinks about single-use plastics. We’ve seen the film industry make real change by lessening how much smoking is seen on screen; this same strategy is a great solution to pave the way for change.
Media is a lesser-discussed industry compared to fashion or food when it comes to climate change and waste. Why is it a core pillar to tackle for Habits of Waste?
Habits of Waste takes a sociological approach to waste and wasteful behavior. We are always trying to identify the root causes of normalized waste and social scientists agree that media plays a huge role in determining what is and isn’t accepted by our society. For example, once smoking was limited on screen, the number of smokers in the US dropped by nearly 25%. We believe that single-use plastics are also normalized by media and that by limiting them on screen, we can reduce their use in general society and create a new “eco-norm”.
What have been the most significant successes in the Lights, Camera, Plastic? initiative?
Sony Pictures is on board with Lights, Camera, Plastic? as well as other several major studios. The campaign was recently featured in the Hollywood Reporter, one of the leading entertainment publications, and we are so proud of this recognition. We have the support of leaders in the entertainment industry, like Chris Weitz, writer of Rouge One: A Star Wars Story and more.
We have identified some key gaps that are simply communication issues, and we are proud to provide the necessary components so that any production team can clearly reach the goal of no single-use plastics on screen. These include watermarks on scripts, posters for set and sample emails for the entire cast and crew educating everyone on why this effort is important.
What have been unexpected hurdles in growing HoW?
We recognize the amazing progress and amazing solutions we’ve established to combat climate change, such as #8meals (switching 8 meals a week to plant-based). And at the same time, there’s a feeling that we still cannot communicate to enough people fast enough. There’s a sense of constant urgency as our planet is crying for help, so the race to amplify our campaigns and inspire more individuals to act is never ending.
I get that the overuse of plastic, from a restaurant to a TV show, is ridiculous. But once it’s in the garbage, I don’t think about it again! How do we get people to overcome an “out of sight out of mind” mentality when it comes to waste?
We believe that education is the key to helping people become more engaged. By meeting them where they are and removing the shame, we have been able to create sustainably-minded consumers who are more aware of the impact of their actions and habits. For example, no one wanted all that extra plastic cutlery with their takeout orders but they just accepted this as the “way it is”. Our campaign #CutOutCutlery gave everyone a chance to voice their frustration and because of our efforts we now have an opt-in for plastic cutlery feature implemented on every major food delivery app and now a statewide bill is being considered in California. We brought a solution to light that saved restaurants money and helped us avoid the guilt of producing extra trash. You don’t have to be an environmentalist to appreciate this simple solution, everyone was on board.
What are other common habitual behaviors that we might not realize have damaging effects on the planet?
The first issue is that many people believe they are “just one person”. There are close to 8 billion people on this planet and if we all did a little bit then we have a chance to make a huge difference. One of our newest campaigns, #ShipNaked, is focused on reducing packaging waste from online delivery orders. We launched this campaign because the equivalent of 1 BILLION trees are cut down every year to make the cardboard needed for packaging.
There is also a lot of plastic waste in our bathrooms that we have come to accept because there have traditionally been no other options. Our #BarsOverBottles campaign is challenging this and encouraging top personal care brands, like L’Oreal, to create bar versions of their products to create less waste.
As you just touched on, you believe in “the power of one”. But many still question the efficacy of individual habits to halt climate change. How do you prove that it’s not only legislation and corporate changes that can make a difference?
A major part of our work is to convince huge corporations and legislators to make changes. And individuals can, near effortlessly, take part in this work. Virtually every campaign has a P2A, which is a prewritten email that goes to selected companies requesting a new solution. Alternatively, there’s a prewritten email that can be sent to legislators in your area. We want the individual to understand that their voice counts and that there must be a combination of solutions on the individual, governmental and corporate level in order for the most impactful change to be made.
We as individuals have the power to determine what is and isn’t accepted in our society. If we change how we consume, corporations will have to change what they produce and how they sell it to us. Our work at Habits of Waste is dedicated to helping individuals feel empowered to create a new ‘eco-normal’ in their own lives which creates a ripple effect that can inspire others to do the same.
How do you measure success?
If we inspire just 1 person that is considered a success. Our goal is obviously to inspire as many people as possible, but truthfully if we stuck to one simple goal- convincing just 1 person to, for example, eat 8 plant-based meals per week, then we could all be change makers and the ripple effect would go far and wide.
Alright, I’m feeling empowered! Let’s say I want to start my own movement to fight climate change. What are the best ways to spread the word, gain traction, and rally support?
We believe that most people want to do the right thing, but may not know where to begin. With this in mind, we focus on creating solutions that are as accessible to as many people as possible. This means tactics that are affordable and that do not force people to completely change their ways of life.
We have found that social media is one of the easiest ways to reach and activate a large audience, which is why all of our campaigns have associated hashtags. Since it is relatively easy to adopt the changes we suggest we have been fortunate to see a lot of publications cover our work, which exposes it to more and more people. It’s been a wonderful journey.
It’s 2030 – what has Lights, Camera, Plastic (or HoW broadly) accomplished in the fight against climate change?
Seeing single-use plastics on screen would feel odd in 2030. It would be a sign that the film was totally outdated and likely shot a decade ago. We would see less celebrities willing to sign on to plastic water bottle endorsement deals and less unsustainable product placements would be on screen. Society would no longer consume single-use plastics as freely and the entire plastics industry would begin to collapse. HoW would be so proud to see this change.
I would love to support Habits of Waste – what can I do?
The best ways to support HoW are to participate in our campaigns, which can be found at www.habitsofwaste.org/campaigns, follow us on social media (@howchangers) and PLEASE make a donation on our website if you can!
The more people join our movement, the larger our collective impact.