Planetary dimension: Recyclable 3D glasses help the environment
A few weekends ago, I was driving my son and a few of his friends to the movies. I asked them what they were going to see, and they all had a different movie on their mind. I asked about 3D, and one of my son’s friends told me he hated 3D. He said the glasses were heavy and annoying. He hadn’t been to a 3D movie since Avatar.
My son, who often hears me talk business, replied, “There’s more than one type of glasses for 3D.” My son asked his friend if the glasses were reusable or recyclable. He didn’t know. My son then asked: Did someone collect the glasses at the end of the show, or did you put them in a cardboard box at the end of the movie?
The funny thing is, before 2009, over 90% of all 3D glasses were “disposable.” They were thrown on the floor with the empty cups and popcorn. And swept up and added to the trash in the dumpster out back. Just like old 35mm trailers, which up until May 2008, were also added to landfills throughout the United States.
That month, shortly after ShoWest 2008, the Inter-Society Environmental Committee (ISEC) was formed. The ISEC had members from exhibition, NATO, several of the major studios, and some key theatrical vendors. This committee was inspired by the efforts of the Cyan Dye Track Committee and all its success. The point of this committee was to increase awareness about potential environmental benefits and to address environmental industry issues, much like the Inter-Society Digital Cinema Forum (ISDCF), formed two years earlier, handled d-cinema issues and needs. Unlike the ISDCF, who had a Wild West-like situation with d-cinema distribution in its infancy, the ISEC’s role was to address strictly environmental issues. The problem of trailers not being returned was the first issue brought up at the very first meeting.
Prior to 2008, several studios tried many different methods, all unsuccessfully, to get trailers returned. This included offering incentives to projectionists, and sending pre-paid envelopes out with the trailers. Until the recent d-cinema expansion, 35mm trailers comprised 15% of all film stock printed. If all the trailers were spliced together in one year, they could circle the globe twelve and a half times.
Prior to 2008, the best record of trailer returns was just below 3% in one year. Old trailers were tossed in the dumpster out back. This has been a problem since trailers were put on the front of movies. They are run over and over until the respective movie is released, then thrown away. There was a small percentage of old trailers that were kept by theatre personnel (Star Wars trailers, for example), but overall, 15% of all 35mm film printed every year ended up heading to your local landfill. That is a lot of polyester getting thrown away, and pre-cyan, a lot of horrible chemicals heading to our landfills for decades. This is not an issue for feature films. Old feature film prints are stored or recycled by every studio. That process is in place. No feature film prints are thrown away.
In May 2008, the ISEC developed a program with the studios, the theatres and the distribution entities to get trailers successfully returned at a rate of 95%. These trailers are subsequently recycled into clothing, blankets, sleeping bags, etc. The committee also made a video for a ShoWest Environmental Event in 2010. Please see the online video at: http://vimeo.com/10342182. In this short video, we show the magnitude of the trailer return and recycle operation, and you get to see the process first-hand, where and how it takes place.
In October 2008, shortly after ShowEast, the ISEC addressed a growing problem with disposable 3D glasses. When digital 3D made its way to theatres with Chicken Little in 2005, RealD had a disposable glasses model for its 84 3D screens. As 3D expanded, Dolby and XPAND introduced a re-useable glasses model where glasses are cleaned and re-used for each show. RealD quickly signed up many of the 3D screens in the USA and still today has the lion’s share of the domestic 3D market. Dolby and XPAND’s reusable model was better received internationally, and as 3D grew, so did the disposable model. MasterImage, like Real D, also had a disposable glasses model.
At that time, millions and millions of 3D glasses were disposed of with the rest of the trash and hauled off to landfills. At one point during Avatar, over two million glasses were being used each day. Seventeen 3D glasses are equal to one pound in a landfill. This was quickly turning into a gigantic environmental problem: As 3D grew, so did the number of plastic 3D disposable glasses heading to landfills. At the current level of 3D expansion in the U.S. and Canada, during the blockbuster season over 250,000 pounds of 3D glasses would be added to our landfills every day. But that is no longer the case.
As of October 2008, the ISEC developed a program to get 3D glasses recycled at a rate of 40% to 98% per year and effectively changed the name of the model from “disposable” to “recyclable” ever since. Special thanks go to RealD and MasterImage for their efforts to make this work. This was a case where RealD and MasterImage never hesitated to address the problem, and over the last five years this has turned into a successful industry-wide venture that has significant environmental benefits. It just goes to show you what can happen when you get the right people in a room together.
My son still knows more about 3D glasses than his friends, but it's good to see that as technology changes the shared experience, the industry is quick to address and attack issues that arise. And I'm happy to report that groups like the Inter-Society, and its various sub-committees, are around to help speed up that process.