Fstoppers Interviews the Team Running One of the Most Sustainable Film Labs

Reducing single-use plastic is increasingly on the minds of conscientious consumers, and the practice of shooting with physical film in preference to digital drives considerations in this area. But never fear, Ikigai Film Lab is here to recycle, reuse, and reuse, to calm our anxiety and help us keep filming with a clearer conscience.

The main source of plastic waste in question here is something long-time photographers know all too well, while many of the young among us might remember it from childhood. My earliest memory of the 35mm plastic boxes wrapped in film was accompanying my mother to the mall to have our family shots developed.

Spooky fun fact: my mom also kept my baby teeth in these boxes, so from the 90s. Maybe your cat likes to roll these little cylinders on the floor paw to paw, or your little one always seems to find them hidden under the sofa or in the car door, inevitably playing with them like a toy. Whatever you do or don’t do with those plastic wrap canisters, there’s one place they’re usually destined: the landfill.

When you look at the amount of plastic waste generated each year, the numbers are simply staggering. The US Environmental Protection Agency estimated that of the 14.5 million tons of plastic and packaging generated in 2018, only 13.6% was recycled.

We’re all aware of the great evil that single-use plastic is, and while we’ve seen some movies being made without that plastic tube to house it, it looks like that’s how it’s going to stay at least in foreseeable future of large manufacturers. Enter, Peter Davison, owner of Ikigai Film Lab in Melbourne, a renowned film lab producing the highest quality scans you will find in the southern hemisphere.

For the past six months, the Ikigai head office team has been working on a film industry plastic recycling program, the first in the world to be done in-house! Additionally, this project is completely solar powered to further reduce their carbon footprint. We can applaud such a conscious approach to the future of cinema and our planet.

After seeing the ad on the lab’s Instagram page, I was curious to know what prompted this innovative idea. Davison told me it was one of their clients, Jake McKeown @sniffgruff, “who first put us on Precious Plastic, a community-based open source project from the Netherlands designed to make recycling easier and use the plastics already in circulation”. Davison explained to me that as their lab grew, they became more aware of “the vast amount of waste we are responsible for and we realized that we were not alone. There is no Australian recycling program for plastic films, and given the number of companies making products with virgin plastic, it seems silly not to reuse it.”

Starting this program with 20,000 mouth-watering plastic wrap containers, Ikigai asked contributors across Australia to get involved in their fight against single-use plastic. They have issued an invitation to any shooter or film laboratory to get involved in this free service. As great as this program is, I wonder where we would be if small businesses like Ikigai didn’t choose to tackle these issues. Also, this problem is multi-layered, and it’s not as simple as recycling and repurposing. I asked Davison about the responsibility of major manufacturers in the film industry for the conscientious use of resources, and he explained that he thought the companies producing these plastics “probably weren’t giving much importance to their elimination”. He explained: “It has been quite difficult to find out what plastics some of these products are made from. More often than not, companies will use mixed plastics to produce things like disposable cameras, bottle caps, and 120 pins.

So, not knowing much about plastics myself, I was surprised to learn how complex it can be to recycle and reuse the different types. “Film makers definitely need to take more responsibility for the waste they create and where they end up,” Davison explained, while adding that “recycling mixed plastics is much more complex.” On a positive note, he told me, “Fortunately, HDPE and LDPE (lids and containers) are quite easy to use, but that’s just the start.”

Ikiagi Film Lab is not alone in innovating. Last year, we saw London-based photographer and YouTuber “Ribsy” release 35mm film packaged in an eco-friendly tube made from recycled paper. I haven’t had a chance to try Ribsy’s film yet, but it got me thinking why more film makers aren’t switching to this type of packaging? A cost issue perhaps, ignorance of the issue, or reliance on individuals and small businesses picking up the pieces at the other end? Whatever the reason, I hope this initiative will give a boost and set an example for the big players in the game to rethink what they offer in the market.

As a global community, we are becoming increasingly aware of our carbon footprint, and many of us wish that companies were not doing greenwashing, but actually making a real difference in this area. Seeing disposable cameras still on the market and even new cameras released only a few months ago by Kodak seems disconcerting given the current environmental crisis. Although still criticized for being disposable plastic items, rechargeable camera options from companies like Ilford, Kodak, Dubblefilm and Agfa at least have the potential to be reused more than once. With film cameras having a moment but rising in price dramatically, these types of novelty items could be something that ends up in thrift stores or worse, in the trash. Only time will tell.

So how much does it cost for a small business to get up and running, and how viable is it for other labs to get on board and start turning that plastic into a usable product? Davison explained that it wasn’t as expensive as I had imagined: “In the grand scheme of things, the cost involved is pretty low. The difference between buying additional scanners and building a basic recycling facility is negligible. These are basic machines that shred and melt plastics. We are the first lab in the world to invest in this process internally, but other labs internationally have already started donating this plastic to recycling companies. »

Davison shared an alarming figure that makes me all the more proud and happy that my home lab is making this program a priority: “To put it into perspective, in 2017/18 Australians used 3.4 million tonnes of plastic and less than 10% was recycled. Australia has a much smaller community of film photographers compared to America and Europe, but it’s a community that is certainly growing. Local labs are springing up all over the country. If you’re developing any amount of film and you’re not planning to donate and compensate yours and your clients’, check it out yourself!

A free community option is the perfect way to inspire others to get involved and take responsibility where we can for the by-products of making a movie. For any lab in Australia that wants to dispose of this waste, it’s actually now free to do so through Ikigai, including transportation costs. A network of recycling centers like this should make the barrier to entry extremely low, and Davison has already been in discussions with some international labs to make it work. However, shredding and melting this plastic is just the start of the idea. Turning it into a new product is the most creative but perhaps the hardest part.

Knowing what the community needs, uses, and ultimately will buy is something the Ikigai team would surely be in tune with. Living and breathing film photography and having a clear passion for providing streamlined service on their website and also a dedication to ensuring that every frame on your rolls of film is the best it can be, I’m sure they reserve a exciting surprise. .

Davison told me that they have “a few ideas in the works, but our premiere is scheduled for around September. We wanted to create something useful that would stand on its own regardless of its composition, and we’re very excited about it. Of course, this new product will be carefully packaged to align with the ethos of this program, and I really think that could set the bar high for the kind of innovation we need to see in the photography community and beyond. of the. The absence of virgin plastic is a huge plus, and everything down to the packaging will revolve around reuse. We work with some incredibly talented people in Melbourne and we look forward to sharing more.”

For anyone interested in getting involved with the Ikigai recycling project, they can be contacted through cycling@ikigaifilmlab.com.au. Follow Ikigai Film Lab on social media to stay up to date with what they are creating and to see some truly amazing works from filmmakers, all developed and scanned by the team, of course!

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