Celebrate Reusables on Screen with Our New Tool

In the Northern Hemisphere, colder weather, longer nights, and time with family can often mean more opportunities to stream your favorite films and binge new or beloved TV shows. And if you’re anything like us, you can’t help but notice when a character you love has an emotional support water bottle, or when a beloved science fiction show knows enough about the harm of microplastics to make them a key storyline. But how can you mark it when you do spot these moments? With our new Reusables on Screen Form, you can help us celebrate reusable and refillable wins on film and TV.

“Plastic is Forever” is the slogan plastered across the promotional posters for the new Mean Girls movie musical. And while the writers of this movie certainly are referencing the pivotal mean girl group of the movie, referred to as “The Plastics,” the double meaning isn’t lost on us. 

Those of us at Plastic Pollution Coalition and Flip the Script on Plastics like to think this slogan means Tina Fey and the producers of the film understand, on some level, the toxic nature of plastics, and that, loaded with that understanding, the movie just might contain a tangible lack of single-use plastics replaced with more sustainable, environmentally friendly reusable alternatives.

In fact, since launching our Flip the Script on Plastics initiative in 2021, we have noticed more and more reusables popping up in our favorite TV shows and movies. This year alone we found significant reusable water bottle placement in Sex Education (Netflix), Shrinking (AppleTV+), and the movie Theater Camp. But we are certain there are more sightings that we simply have not had time yet to catch and reflect, which is why we need you as a part of our community’s help.

The Reusables on Screen Form

Mean Girls, Paramount Pictures

Introducing our new tool, the Reusables on Screen Form. A quick and easy way for you to let us know where you see reusables, refillables, or language about plastic pollution reflected in popular culture, so that we can highlight these wins, thereby  showing Hollywood that ditching plastic isn’t so hard after all.
The process is simple: If you catch a reusable feature in a TV show or movie, be them brand spanking new, or 20+ years old, open our form and let us know. Give us as much information as you can, but don’t feel bad if you didn’t catch the exact time or episode it happened in, even the title will go a long way.

What About Single-Use Plastics on Screen?

Jury Duty, Amazon Prime

We are still watching out for single-use plastics that show up on our screens, but at Plastic Pollution Coalition, we prefer to focus on the positives rather than the negatives. And, unfortunately, the amount of plastics on screen can at times be so high it’s impossible to count. We’re hoping that one day the same goes for reusables, and the more we identify these wins on screen, the more we can encourage the entertainment industry to keep up the good work and highlight even more reusables. 

If you spot reusables on screen and submit it with our form, don’t forget to drop your social media handles if you are willing; we would love to celebrate you as well as the plastic-free moments! If we choose to highlight the reusables you found, we’ll tag you in our posts and let you join us in our joy that another piece of media is working to Flip the Script on Plastics. So go ahead, bookmark the form, and get watching!

Learn More & Get Involved

Sex Education, Netflix

Learn more about Flip the Script on Plastics, including additional resources and latest news on how we’re helping Hollywood eliminate single-use plastics from sets and storylines. To get involved with our initiative, contact Amelia@PlasticPollutionCoalition.org

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Plastic Pollution Coalition has been working with the Norman Lear Center for the past three years, beginning with a report in 2021 that helped launch Flip the Script on Plastics, created by the Media Impact Project. We later partnered with the University of Southern California (USC) Norman Lear Media Center’s Hollywood, Health & Society (HH&S) to work with studios and TV writers, providing the facts about plastic pollution and helping them to incorporate plastic-aware storytelling into their scripts.

On Wednesday, December 6, 2023, just hours after Norman Lear’s passing, television writers, producers, show runners, and stars gathered at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills for the HH&S Sentinel Awards. The Awards honor TV writers who carry on Lear’s legacy of creating television that takes on important issues and accurately represents modern society, and this year’s event was especially poignant as attendees celebrated Norman Lear’s life.

As a core program of the USC’s Annenberg Norman Lear Center, HH&S provides the entertainment industry with accurate and up-to-date information for storylines including topics of health, safety, and security, to the impacts of plastic, pollution and climate change.

Pictured: Writer Scott Z Burns, Plastic Pollution Coalition Executive Advisory Board Member Asher Jay, Plastic Pollution Coalition CEO & Co-Founder Dianna Cohen, Musician & Plastic Pollution Coalition Notable Member Ben Harper at the 2023 Sentinel Awards

During the award ceremony, 11 shows were honored for their accurate and moving storylines, including Superman & Lois (CW) honored for their multi-episode, emotional depiction of breast cancer; Fleishman is in Trouble (FX) for their depiction of maternal health; and Extrapolations (AppleTV+), which was honored for their depiction of a probable future world plagued by the repercussions of the climate crisis. 

Grammy award–winning musician, Plastic Pollution Coalition notable member, and Extrapolations cast member Ben Harper presented the award to creator and showrunner Scott Z Burns, who participated in our September 2022 webinar “Crafting Hollywood Storylines That Flip the Script on Plastics.” After Scott Z Burns accepted his award, Ben Harper treated the audiences to a moving performance of his song “Excuse Me Mr.”

Shortly after Harper’s performance, actors Peyton List and Sarah Yarkin, stars of School Spirits (Netflix) and judges of our PPC Plastic Kills! short film contest, took to the stage to share Plastic Pollution Coalition’s mission and present the winning short horror comedy film Blastic.

Pictured: Plastic Kills! judges & School Spirits co-stars Peyton List and Sarah Yarkin at the 2023 Sentinel Awards

The evening was filled with moving speeches, with writers and actors recounting the myriad of ways that Norman Lear had impacted their lives—from host Larry Wilmore and presenter Debby Allen making their first television appearances on Lear’s shows, to writers who grew up glued to their televisions dreaming of one day writing stories as impactful as those Norman had penned. Everyone collectively agreed, Norman Lear had impeccable taste and timing, up to his very last moment.

A Conversation with Hollywood, Health & Society Director Kate Folb

Ahead of the awards, we spoke with HH&S Director Kate Folb to learn about the history and highlights of the awards, and how working with Plastic Pollution Coalition and our Flip the Script on Plastics initiative has affected the Sentinel Awards and Hollywood, Health & Society at large.

To start, please tell us how your career brought you to Hollywood, Health & Society?

Kate Folb: Well, I started my career in TV and music production, later went to work for the Scott Newman Foundation working with TV and film on depictions of alcohol and other drug abuse, then moved to The Media Project—a partnership of Advocates for Youth and the Kaiser Family Foundation—to work with depictions of reproductive health. When the AIDS crisis happened, this became a full court press to encourage depictions of safe sex, normalize condoms, and dispel myths about the disease, which were rampant at the time.

Later, I founded my own consulting firm Nightingale Entertainment, which consulted with Planned Parenthood, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and others on celebrity engagement and accurate depictions of a variety of health topics. 

And THEN, I came to Hollywood, Health & Society. In fact, I was working at The Media Project in 2001 when HH&S was first established, and I thought to myself, “I’m going to work there one day.”

How have you seen the work HH&S has done reflected in Hollywood?

Kate Folb:  I’m always so pleased when we see our work reflected in shows. In the over 20 years we’ve been working with writers we’ve held over 4,500 consultations leading to over 2,000 aired storylines on dozens of networks, cable, and streaming channels.

What has been your favorite part of working with Plastic Pollution Coalition over the last two years?

Kate Folb: I have loved learning from Dianna Cohen, Amelia Hanson, and the rest of the team at Plastic Pollution Coalition. We’ve had some good fun working together—even during the Hollywood strikes. Our Plastic Kills! short film contest was a blast, and the Toxic Tour we hosted together made a profound impact on participants as well as our staff. 

Pictured: PPC Staff Amelia Hanson & Dianna Cohen, Blastic Creators Adam Wademan & Aaron Beal, Actor & PPC Notable member Sarah Yarkin, HH&S Director Kate Folb at the 2023 Sentinel Awards

Why do you think the Sentinel Awards are so important?

Kate Folb: The Sentinel Awards honor not only good entertainment, but entertainment that does good. These shows help inform audiences of important issues and model healthy behaviors. We’ve seen the impact these shows have on audiences’ knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors through our research. I’m always amazed at the power of storytelling. So we want to highlight the good work writers are doing to not only entertain, but to inform and inspire healthy choices.

What’s your most memorable Sentinel Award moment from the past?

Kate Folb: Oh wow, there are many! Just to name a few: Sam Levinson giving a heartfelt speech about his own personal battles that made everyone in the room cry, Ava Duvernay talking about how she uses art as activism, having NASA astronaut Dr. Yvonne Cagle present an award for climate change, last year’s dance-a-thon with Li’l Mike and Funny Bone of Reservation Dogs, and of course every year that Norman Lear has been able to be with us! 

How have the Sentinel Awards changed since their formation?

Kate Folb: 

Funny you should ask. We played a video at the awards this year on the “History of the Sentinel Awards” that showed its humble beginnings in the multipurpose room at the Writers Guild with a handful of people, to the red carpet gala it has become—last year at the TV Academy, and this year, appropriately, at the Writers Guild Theater.

How have the Sentinel Awards changed since working with Plastic Pollution Coalition?

Kate Folb:

We had already begun to refuse using plastic utensils, plates, and other items at our receptions, but Plastic Pollution Coalition helped us take it up another notch. Thanks to them, we have redesigned our award sculpture to a beautiful plastic-free bronze statuette that will be debuted at this year’s event.

This year’s (plastic-free) Sentinel Award

What do you think TV writers still need to understand about plastic and plastic pollution?

Kate: With plastic and TV there are two levels of action needed: 1) eliminating plastic on set, and 2) eliminating plastic on camera. Writers and showrunners can help with both. But helping to get rid of plastic off camera, and showing characters using reusable products instead, will go a long way in changing behavior among TV and movie viewers.  

What are you most excited about for this year’s Sentinel Awards?

Kate: We’re so excited to be honoring the creatives behind these shows and so grateful the strikes are over and we can really party! Having the awards at the Writers Guild Theater seems the appropriate venue to shine a big light on the good work these writers do and have done—even in the most difficult times. 

As Plastic Pollution Coalition and Hollywood, Health & Society look ahead to 2024, with the Hollywood strikes resolved and the entertainment industry ready to get back to work, both groups are ready to bring writers and creatives the best facts and inspiration to help shift society and popular culture away from its toxic throwaway habits and Flip the Script on Plastics.

Learn More & Get Involved

Learn more about Flip the Script on Plastics, including additional resources and latest news on how we’re helping Hollywood eliminate single-use plastics from sets and storylines. If you’re a member of the entertainment industry, consider signing our Flip the Script on Plastics Pledge, and contact Amelia@PlasticPollutionCoalition.org to get more involved.

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Hollywood, CA –  Plastic Pollution Coalition hosted a star-studded panel discussion on January 19 exploring the portrayal and prevalence of single-use plastics in film and TV, featuring Hollywood activists and artists Yareli Arizmendi, Fran Drescher, and Kyra Sedgwick, along with Dana Weinstein, Project Specialist for the Media Impact Project at the Norman Lear Center, USC. The panel was moderated by Dianna Cohen, Co-Founder, and CEO of Plastic Pollution Coalition.

Hollywood Stars Plastic

As part of Plastic Pollution Coalition’s new multi-year initiative to “Flip the Script on Plastics,” these and many more entertainment industry players are putting into practice the old adage that “life imitates art” by modeling the systemic change needed to solve the plastic pollution crisis, a significant contributor to the climate crisis. They are part of a growing coalition of actors, writers, producers, and showrunners who are committing to shun single-use plastics on set and to use and show package-free and reusable and refillable systems on screen in popular television shows and movies.

Single-use plastics are the primary source of plastic pollution on the planet, with Americans alone discarding more than 30 million tons of plastic a year. With 99% of plastics made from fossil fuels, the climate and environmental justice implications are significant and increasing.  The plastics industry’s contribution to climate change is on track to exceed that of coal-fired power in the U.S. by 2030.

The first-ever analysis of the portrayal and prevalence of single-use plastics and reusable alternatives in popular scripted television conducted by the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center found them awash with plastic pollution, modeling a behavior contradictory to the industry’s oft-purported values. The report, commissioned by Plastic Pollution Coalition, with support from the Break Free From Plastic movement and Plastic Solutions Fund, suggests that instead of portraying the unfortunate reality of excessive plastic use, films and TV shows could help change society’s throwaway culture by modeling life with less single-use plastic.

We are shaped and formed by what we watch. Media has the power to reimagine the world and blaze a trail to a more just, equitable, regenerative, healthy, thriving plastic-free world for all living beings, if we commit and act now.

Dianna Cohen, Co-Founder and CEO, Plastic Pollution Coalition

Decades of research show that scripted entertainment plays a powerful role in shaping our social norms, attitudes, and behavior on a wide variety of health and social issues. Thus, entertainment can be a highly effective medium for modeling sustainable practices and systems.

Dana Weinstein, M.A., Project Specialist at USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center

As President of SAG-AFTRA and Founder of Cancer Schmancer, I am excited about Plastic Pollution Coalition’s Flip the Script initiative; I am creating a seminal Green Council to clean up Hollywood and reduce our industry’s carbon footprint. We must be forward thinking and always consider innovations’ long-term impacts on the health of the planet.

Fran Drescher, actress, founder of Cancer Schmancer, and president of the Screen Actors Guild/American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA)

Plastic Pollution Coalition is engaging the entertainment industry in both on- and off-screen efforts with the intention to change individual behaviors in homes and workplaces, and advocate for corporate and policy changes across the globe; some notable members of Plastic Pollution Coalition include Sergio Arau, Ed Begley, Jr., Jack Bender, Jeff Bridges, Jeff Franklin, Jake Kasdan, Mandy Moore, and Alfre Woodard, among others. 

Sign up for the webinar here.

Download the full report here.

About Plastic Pollution Coalition: Plastic Pollution Coalition is a growing global alliance of more than 1,200 organizations, businesses, and thought leaders in 75 countries working toward a more just, equitable world free of plastic pollution and its toxic impact on humans, animals, waterways, oceans, and the environment. 

About the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center: The Norman Lear Center is a nonpartisan research and public policy center that studies the social, political, economic and cultural impact of entertainment on the world. It is based at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism

MEDIA CONTACT: Jen Fela, Vice President, Programs & Communications, jen@plasticpollutioncoalition.org

Be sure to check out the recording of our January 2022 Webinar: Flip the Script on Plastics in Hollywood: Rethinking Single-Use Plastics in Film & Television featuring activists and artists Yareli Arizmendi, Fran Drescher, and Kyra Sedgwick, along with Dana Weinstein, Project Specialist for the Media Impact Project at the Norman Lear Center, USC.