Early last week Film Biz Recycling, a seven-year-old Gowanus based nonprofit that rents, sells and donates used furniture and props from film and television productions announced that it was shutting its doors for good.
The nonprofit, which is based out of a sprawling 11,000-square-foot basement, is one of the best kept secrets of the city. “By the way, keeping us a secret does not keep us in business,” Eva Radke, founder and owner of Film Biz Recycling, said as an aside.
"This whole place was just an accident of trying to do the right thing,” Radke explained over the ambient noise of croaking tape guns, squeaking wheels and a steady stream of classic rock. “I couldn't have ever imagined it would be this cool, this beloved -- the public's crushed.”
Radke, a veteran of the film and television industry, explained that Film Biz Recycling was born out of her observing the industry’s culture of waste. She recalled seeing production companies throwing out props, furniture and set materials that were used for at times a mere couple of weeks to a single day. Radke says that Film Biz Recycling, in its seven year life, has helped to change that culture, but is worried about what will happen when it’s gone.
“We have changed the culture. I'm sure that many productions will say 'I can’t do this' and will find a place to donate it. [But] those places are selective, they take only a certain amount of things,” said Radke. This is what make Film Biz Recycling different. Radke told us that they were designed especially for the film industry and will take “Everything that is not broken or dangerous” from productions.
Film Biz Recycling has been arguably successful in what its mission statement frames as a “Zero Waste policy ensuring that no donated materials go to waste.’” The non-profit boasts its achievement in diverting about 97% of waste a week away from landfills, where a majority of a production’s props and materials end up.
The non-profit was even awarded an Environmental Quality Award by the Environmental Protection Agency for its efforts. It’s the highest honor the agency can give to a business.
“The anniversary of getting our EPA award was when we had to announce that we had to shutter our doors,” said Radke.
When asked what the core issue was behind Film Biz Recycling closing up show, Radke said point blank that she was unable to find the funds to keep the business operational “Anyway you slice it we were $10,000 short every month.”
This is likely due to Film Biz Recycling’s business model that prioritizes charity, which Radke admits is bad. “We gave stuff away. We spent our labor giving stuff away. We had a drain in our resources because of our giving. I was never gonna stop giving. 30% of our labor and 15% of our rented space was dedicated to helping our community."
Another reason, Radke pointed out, was apathy from industry that acts as the source of Film Biz Recycling’s tons of inventory. Radke explained that when she reached out to production companies to help support Film Biz Recycling, companies would ignore her and sometimes accuse her asking too much of them.
Radke even claims that one company asked her if she had reached out to Leonardo DiCaprio for help, “Are you kidding me? ‘Oh right, I just talked to him yesterday I didn't think about that. Let me text him real quick’,” she said with exasperation.
Although Radke concedes that her business is closing because of her inability to secure funding, she’s not letting the entertainment industry off the hook.
“The film industry, and every industry that makes something ,is going to have waste. Every industry needs to be very conscious of filling up landfills.” Radke said. “It's the producer's responsibility to make sure that while you're creating your art you're not creating a mess.”
Radke offered to provide a tour of the basement, acting as our Ariadne through the labyrinth of bathtubs, coffins, lamps, chairs, tables and boxes and boxes of miscellaneous props. In the middle of our tour we met Cynthia Herrington and Kathryn Vega, a pair of set designers and regular clients of Film Biz Recycling.
When asked about what examples of waste they had seen during their tenure in the industry Herrington described a case in which a train car-sized dump was brought to a set and filled with “easily” $20,000 worth of material.
“It’s unimaginable,” Herrington said describing the industry’s waste. “One roll of corrugated cardboard is this big," she hugged her arms around an invisible oil drum. "We sometimes go through two or three of them and we use it for two days then we throw it out.”
Herrington went on to explain that the culture of waste is just a given in the industry that has no problems with money. The designer even described instances where productions didn’t budget a means to dispose of their trash and instead paid production assistants to surreptitiously drive around the city and spread their garbage.
Is that illegal? “No s--t,” Herrington said emphatically.
Film Biz Recyling will be having a liquidation sale that will last through May and June. You can find more details regarding this sale on their website at Filmbizrecycling.org