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Waste Management in Animation

Environmentalist Lesli Rynyk explains the Canadian Waste Management Act and subsequent Animation Waste Management Plan designed to decrease waste in animation studios.

When we watch an animated feature or Saturday morning cartoon, we watch in awe of the art, to escape reality, or to be entertained. If we stop to think about the effort put into the creation of animated pieces, we usually think about the amount of people involved in the production or the amount of hours it took to create. Rarely, is the amount of waste generated over the course of the production considered.

© Canuck Creations.


In March of 1994, the Province of Ontario passed Ontario Regulation 347 in the Waste Management Act (the equivalent to an Assembly Bill, such as Assembly Bill 939 for the State of California). This regulation, a guiding device of the act, requires all organizations in the Industrial, Commercial, and Institutional (ICI) sectors to perform a waste audit every five years. In addition, they must possess and follow a waste management plan to reduce wastes. This regulation does not exclude the motion picture industry: live-action or animated. The Ministry of Environment and Energy (MOEE) reserves the right to enter a business and ask for their last audit results, read their management plan, and inspect their property to ensure the plan is being carried out as documented. Penalties for failure to comply with Regulation 347 can be as extensive as jail time and a fine. The goal of this regulation is to have a 50% reduction in waste by the year 2000 and 80% by the year 2003 (MOEE, 1998). The problem lies in that the film industry in Ontario, a growing business for the province, does not understand that this law governs them.

Canuck Creations Incorporated

Animation, a specialized section of the industry, is expanding rapidly. Sheridan Collage, located just outside of Toronto, is one of the largest animation schools in the world. Walt Disney Studios has a large production studio in the Toronto area as well. In addition, there are numerous small production companies in Ontario which collaborate with the major studios to produce some of today's animated features and television. One such company is Canuck Creations located in downtown Toronto. Its President, Alan Kennedy, founded Canuck Creations Incorporated in 1993. Since then, Canuck Creations has been involved in such productions as Space Jam (1996) for Warner Bros., Anastasia (1997) for Fox Animation, and the recently released, Quest for Camelot(1998), again, for Warner Bros. However, the one item that really makes this production company unique is that they possess a waste management plan tailored to their business.

Problems Encountered

Canuck Creations was approached in February of 1997 to participate in a study of animation waste generation. It included participation in a waste audit and the creation of a waste management plan. They were, in fact, the only company out of 48 contacted in North America to agree to the project. For the most part, companies refused to respond to the messages left on their machines regarding the project. However, there were a few interesting excuses used to avoid participation:

  • They are not a production company (despite being listed under `Production')
  • They only have an office in Toronto.
  • They only produce commercials.
  • They only produce documentaries.
  • They are too busy at the moment to be concerned with this.
  • They are not in production at the moment.
  • They do not have enough staff to warrant a management plan.
  • They are not interested in having a management plan.
  • They are too small of a company.
  • They are possibly interested and will call back (i.e. don't call us, we'll call you).
  • The production assistant just takes the waste to the landfill and dumps it.

Judging by the influx of environmentally-based story lines coming to both the big and small screens, it appears that it is important to be involved in a project that promotes environmental awareness. However, when it comes to being part of the reality of carrying out the message, the preference is to escape into the imaginary world that has been created in hopes the problem will go away. However, it is not going to go away until everyone accepts responsibility for their actions and chooses to make it go away. Canuck Creations took the first step by choosing to participate.

Canuck Creations is located in a converted warehouse-style space in Toronto. Photo courtesy of Canuck Creations.

Problems were not restricted to the film industry. Many environmental organizations possessed only basic information on waste management, did not understand the scope of the project, or would not return phone calls. The information available today is limited not only in quantity but in quality as well. Much of the information about waste management veered in the direction of landfill processes. In addition, the information available was extremely out of date. As for resources about waste management and the film industry together, it simply does not exist. Nevertheless, there is an Animation Waste Management Plan. An Environmental Audit An animation company can be very similar to a regular office as there are large amounts of paper and other stationary being used, however fluctuations in production can vary. This gives an animation company oscillating rates of waste production. Also, smaller companies tend to have their services contracted by larger studios that supply them with the materials needed for the project to maintain uniformity. This changes the composition of their waste with each job. Due to the uniqueness of the business, a regular waste audit, consisting of a detailed investigation of the actual wastes produced by a business during a period of a week or month, was not appropriate. One week or one month would not portray an accurate account of the wastes produced over the course of a year. In addition, depending on the type of projects the company is involved in, each year may also be different. Therefore an environmental audit was conducted. This consists of walking through the studio space, asking questions to the staff, and assessing the purchasing records of the company. In Canuck Creations' case, their purchasing records covered a period of one and a half years. Over the course of the year, visits to the studio were carried out every two to four months to update visual data, the purchasing records were broken down into numerical data, and additional information was sought from other sources in attempts to piece a management plan together. Despite the fact that there are very limited resources for this type of project at the moment, the bulk of the information needed was in the audit. Canuck Creations is a paper-based business with paper accounting for almost 30% of their supplies. However, it was found that by changing purchasing habits, they could cut their continuously purchased supply numbers in half and curb costs by 26%. For example, the purchase of 66 rolls of scotch tape with plastic dispensers costs Canadian $143.44, which is more than 66 rolls of scotch tape without plastic dispensers at $131.62, plus the cost of investing in a couple of communal permanent dispensers at $4.98 each. This total comes to $141.58. It may only be a couple of dollars but it is the elimination of plastic dispensers that cannot be recycled that is important. Through reducing the need for scotch tape all together, the costs and wastes will be reduced. In addition, the use of multipurpose tape can eliminate the need for various types of tape, and/or buying tape in bulk prevents excess packaging. Both ideas reduce costs and wastes.

Canuck Creations' clean-up and photocopy area. Paper accounts for almost 30% of the studio's supply costs. Photo courtesy of Canuck Creations.

The Management Plan

Once the wastes were identified and alternatives were found, it was only a matter of organizing a plan. The easiest way to construct a management plan is to divide the business and wastes into sections. For Canuck Creations, their plan was divided into four areas: Reception, Animation, Computer/Video, and Kitchenette/Lounge. Then the wastes are grouped by means of tactics to eliminate them. Are they going to be recycled, reused, or reduced? In addition, how does the company plan on carrying out each of these points? It is important for each company to identify their goals in their plan as well. They provide guidance as to how and when the plan should be carried out. Usually management plans have the same goal as the provincial/state legislation. However, goals should be reasonable. For Canuck Creations Incorporated, 50% waste reduction by the year 2000 is an achievable goal. Changing Our Ways There are many ways to change our habits without compromising the quality of creativity. In fact, creativity in finding new paths to change can enhance the quality of our work. Imagination is the key to this business and to improving the environment. This can be done with simple acts such as: eliminating note-pads and post-it notes, and using scrap paper and/or white boards instead; changing to mechanical pencils where applicable, and refillable pens (please note that biodegradable pens only degrade out in direct sunlight, not in landfills); doing as much work on the computer as possible before printing; getting a fax/modem and an Internet account to communicate via the modem (most magazines are on-line as well); investing in personalized coffee mugs instead of Styrofoam cups; purchasing sugar in bulk instead of single packets; and utilizing a reusable coffee filter. Buy products that can be reused many times or for a multitude of things. They may cost more now, but they will save more than money in the future. Another solution is to send old art supplies to schools for kids to create their own masterpieces. Children do not care if paintbrushes are not perfect, or if the colors are not the right shade. Trees are purple in their world. Non-profit organizations are another sector often looking for donations, which will also guarantee a tax write-off. More ambitious moves include: leasing equipment such as computers, photocopiers, printers, etc. since old equipment can be returned to the dealer; insisting that art suppliers take back packaging or eliminate it all together; requesting larger companies take back unused supplies at the end of projects; choosing glass and aluminum containers over plastic since plastic is a petroleum-based product and different grades/types make recycling difficult; investing in a composter for food scraps as the soil produced is rich in nutrients that gardens thrive on; inquiring about organic/vegetable-based inks for printers and photocopiers; finding a company that is willing to refill cartridges for printers and photocopiers; and choosing graphite over lead for pencils. The Future Often, many of our purchasing decisions are made for today's convenience, without considering the inconvenience it will make tomorrow. Animation is a business that prides itself on the detail of the final product. The same detailed care should go into the decisions regarding the products used to create that final show. It is important to read labels, ask questions, and demand changes. We have to be careful with how we treat the environment as it will come back and haunt us and our children later. We are as much a part of it as it is of us. Canuck Creations took a bold step forward through the development of their waste management plan. However, there is a long road ahead and they are only one company. The concept of waste management plans in the film industry is a relatively new idea but a needed one. This project has proved that both fields, environment and film, can be difficult to work with, and amalgamating the two is even harder. Yet, in the long run it is worth it and cost-effective. The local Ministry/Department of the Environment can provide more information on waste management planning and legislation. Furthermore, the Earth Communications Office (ECO) is a non-profit organization that promotes environmental awareness through the media. They are always interested in projects that take environmental action in the film industry. We can make a world of difference both on and off the screen. We just have to be willing to take that first step. Lesli Rynyk recently graduated from the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada earning her Bachelor of Environmental Studies (BES). This project was part of her Senior Honours Thesis combining her interests in media arts and the environment.