It’s happened us Costume-All. Standing at wrap in the costume office with miles of racks of clothing (most made of non-recyclable fibres that will never decompose), exploding piles of department store shopping bags, tangles of hangers and mountains of out of date paperwork. As well as being beat by the shooting schedule, you’re now responsible for this pregnant avalanche of garbage. You try and have a wardrobe sale but more often than not people don’t want any more clothes and the costume houses are overflowing. Then you decide to donate but the backs of the major thrift stores are minefields of dirty textiles and the front offices filled with dirty politics.
What can we do?
Sheila Pruden, Costume Supervisor
There are checklists that the major studios require Costume Supervisors to fill out to list what environmentally responsible things the department has done on a show. They include things like recycling paper, printing your financial records double sided, limiting printing (using online services), recycle ink cartridges, using cloth garment bags, WetCleaning rather than Drycleaning, washing in cold or cooler water, hanging to dry when possible. Reusable glass or metal containers in the dye room. Using the the least toxic products possible for breakdown.
Nicole Manek, Stylist and Costume Designer, Owner of Life of Manek
I second hand as much as possible, research big box stores and try to buy from those who are the most ethical. Reuse as much as you can. On Baroness Von Sketch, I took to dying garments a different colour and using them again, also turned a lot of dresses into tops, again to reuse.
Getting rid of the re-usable in the Greater Toronto Area (that isn't a major thrift chain)
The Clothes Off Our Racks takes donations of clothing, shoes and accessories directly from costume departments and re-distributes them to homeless charities and non-profits. These are some of their recipients.
www.readysetrecycle.com gives a few great options to uphold their mandate of diverting 1000’s of pounds of film costume, props and scenery from landfill. They can arrange your wrap sale, give you a commission on your items sold from their warehouse or post your items on their website.
New Circles , 161 Bartley Drive 416 422-2591
New Circles runs a clothing bank that has a client list of 12,000 people who receive free clothing. There are special events for teens, Halloween, Christmas and Prom and back to school. They also operate a mobile mall for seniors who cannot get to New Circles to access the clothing bank.
There are specific items they do not accept, please check the web site.
What about Textile recycling?
I found a company called Textile Waste Diversion who though enthusiastic about diverting textiles from landfills in Ontario, admits that what they collect still gets sent overseas. You'd have to reach out to them directly as their list of donation bins page is broken.
The Footprint of Show Shopping
I admire the costume departments that have their shopping bags from Aritzia to Zara alphabetized for easy returns. (For those of you who aren’t aware, we buy many options for costume fittings- whether size, colour or style because usually you get limited time to have the actors try on their possible costumes so invariably there are always returns of the un-worn garments to the stores, (hence the term ‘returns’). But I can’t stand being responsible for all those shopping bags at the end of a show. I have to ask for no bag at the cash, remind them again not to bag my items, and then fight them from adding tissue. The plastic tags that hold the 4 so necessary tags that come with each garment, as well as the shoulder ribbons/loops that just creep their way out to one’s décolleté during in-opportune moments (that we tear out) are just enough garbage to handle. I always ask my team to use large reusable bags- our favourite are the large blue ikea ones as they can hold the world and I don’t care how classy they make me look. I have one less disposable plastic bag on my conscience.
Brenda says it all, but with more class.
Gold Shopping Tips from Brenda Broer,
Costume Designer and Costume Buyer
We all joke about the mountain of bags at the end of a show but it’s surprisingly easy to avoid. I try to have my own reusable shopping bags with me when I’m shopping. My favourites are from Winners and Michaels, as they have comfortable handles which are long enough to sling over your shoulder, and fit a surprisingly large amount of clothes. Others have told me the MEC large totes are their favourite. And don't forget about IKEA!
I accept tissue when formal presentation is an important part of the experience at a store or I’m buying something delicate. When it is undesirable to fold the garments even for a short time I accept garment bags which I reuse more than once. Retail staff will often be curiously persistent in trying to convince you to take their bag when purchasing, but they are all infinitely happier when they don’t fill their garbage bin with your large clunky bags.
I organize returns in clear shoe bags and they stay neat, folded and it's easy at a glance to see which store they are from. This system also improves the speed of the return process by taking up much less space, which requires less trips to the car.
Your hands will be liberated for opening doors, texting, paying for parking, and, it’s easy to step aside after a transaction because all of your things are neatly over your shoulder already.
Yes, yes, plastic bags are recyclable according to www.toronto.ca including dry cleaning bags and Ziplocs - if they get to the blue bin. But why not limit them? They likely have to be sent overseas and melted and remade into another plastic item and then shipped back for our very important consumption.
Of note is Wotever Inc, in Toronto that provides extremely useful items such as hangers, kit supplies, garment care, and water and warm up gear. Every in store purchase is always packed up in a re-used shop bag donated by productions.
Yes! You can recycle that!
All those scripts and shooting schedules (un-shredded- it gums up the recycling machines otherwise), manilla tags, dry cleaning bags, Ziplocs, safety pins (only the broken or bent ones or else how will the department function?), laundry detergent bottles, wet one containers, completely empty aerosol cans and their lids- separated, lint brush holders without the sticky rolls, plastic thread spools, shoe boxes,
Boxes that contained expensive gifted chocolate (but not any of the fancy foil or glitter wrapping).
No, that’s just garbage
Thermal paper receipts (!),Top stick, double sided tape, markers, pens, sticky lint brush sheets, dryer sheets, rubber bands, hot shots, insoles, sticker backings, tissue paper (I know it makes you feel like a princess by unwrapping those froths but say no to that shit- well, sigh, unless it’s Alexander McQueen sequins), take away coffee cups, bubble wrap, binders, used wet ones (don’t flush them either! They don’t disintegrate) hangers both metal and plastic (it's cheaper to landfill them then recycle), printer ink cartridges, photo paper, batteries, notions, clothing, shoes, shoe laces, broken jewelry, broken buttons.
But it's still really, really hard.
Many offices and shows don't recycle other than paper. But there are blue bins and composting in the kitchen, and sprinkled around all the trucks in base camp you say. It's unfortunately just optics, Location Manager Jonathan Matthews tells me. We as responsible individuals have to follow the rules of what garbage to throw where because most often everyday the recycling bin has food matter in it, and the landfill bin full of soda pop cans. There isn't sorting time of a film set's garbage factored into the budget and if it isn't sorted, it's all going into landfill.
Knowing this, my department and I take turns taking the departments recycling home to add to our residential pick up. I've cringed more than once to see what going on in the recycling bin placed next to the wardrobe truck. But my hands are full of Armani with a cell phone attached to my head and my truck girl calling my name- how can I start sorting everyone's garbage?
What else can we do?
Saving the unclaimed water bottles that litter every set and use the water for the iron or washing on the truck. Or even taking them home to water your plants (and then recycle)- true story of Rachel Ford.
Using online systems like Sync OnSet to share information, fitting and continuity photos, therefore not printing continuity photos or throwing away printer cartridges.
Costume Crew bringing their own re-usable plates, cups, cutlery to limit the disposable ones for the set or office.
And yet there's SO much more to be addressed, including the dye and breakdown room, those materials and their disposal. Here's the link to the Household Hazardous Waste Site in Toronto. They'll do a 'Toxic Taxi' pick up of between 10-50 litres or kilograms- maybe team up with the paint department and see what they're off loading. There are also drop off locations.
But what about cardboard hangers? Likely they could fit in our existing hanger stands and you could get the show logo printed across them as promotional pieces as well. What actor doesn't want to see their face on their costume hangers each morning when getting dressed?
The Smart Hanger and Green Hanger are two options online. From the Smart Hanger website:
"The Smart Hanger is completely recyclable through the City's (Toronto) blue bin recycling program, whereas plastic and other paperboard hangers do not meet recycling standards, and along with more than 90% of wire hangers about 300 million a year end up in landfills across Canada."
It seems that both productions and individuals need to take extra care and time with the acquisition and disposal of all our materials- which we all know is difficult in the race to the next shot. But what else can we do?
I'd love to hear your suggestions for creating a sustainable costume department in the comments section below, so that my next show can add one less thing to the landfill.
With generous input from Nicole Manek, Karynah Zeh, Rachel Ford, Sue Daly, Anna Dal Farra, Sheila Pruden, Anya Taraboulsy, Adriana Fulop, Beverley Law, Peter Webster, Chris Letman Roberts, Jonathan Matthews and Kimberley Stanley.
Just love dressing up, dressing other people up and talking about it. A lot. And laughing too.