I’ll be honest: My boyfriend and I are frequent movie goers. We both like action and sci-fi movies best, so whenever a good one comes out we’re on top of it. He’s a huge fan of Star Wars specifically, so that’s always a given, and I love super hero movies (omg, have you seen Infinity Wars yet?? GO). But I must admit, being zero waste at the movies isn’t always easy. With all the ticket stubs they give out, the plastic-wrapped candies, the plastic-lined buckets of popcorn…all of it can be quite wasteful. Worse yet, my movie theater doesn’t even have recycling. They just dump everything into the trash. That’s why I decided, whenever I could, I would do my best to keep my waste at a minimum while at the movies. I never purchase candy there (just popcorn), and that’s easier to make at home and bring in a glass jar (stashed in my bag of course). Maybe at some point I’ll try to talk to the theater about changing their wasteful practices, but until then, I’ll at least do my part. Since I’m sure I’m not the only zero waste movie goer, I figured it would be a good idea to share my tips and tricks with all of you greenifiers too. I’ve even included a sample letter (at the bottom of the post) you can use in case you decide to contact your local theater about introducing more zero waste options! Now without further ado, here’s how to be zero waste at the movies.
How to be zero waste at the movies
Here are some tips and tricks that work for me. I hope they help you create as minimal waste as possible. Also, I’ve included a sample letter you can send to movie theaters near you who need to step up their zero waste game a little. Feel free to shoot them an email if you want – you never know what they’ll say! Reaching out and making them aware of their waste may help them realize there are better options out there.
Popcorn (and other snacks)
If you know you’re going to be heading to the movies, I recommend making your popcorn at home (if there’s time) and placing it in a glass jar. It doesn’t have to be a mason jar – any empty jar will do.
I bought my popcorn kernels in bulk
from my local health food store and they’ve lasted a long time so far. I pop them in a stainless steel pot with a little bit of olive oil. I then season it as I see fit (usually with just a little bit of salt) and place the popcorn in a glass jar. It’s fun to try different flavors every once and a while (I once made sugar and cinnamon flavored popcorn which was delicious). You can get as creative as you like here.
Once you’ve made your popcorn, seasoned it, and put it in a glass jar, just plop it into your bag. If you’re with kids (who are old enough) you can each give them a jar full of popcorn for themselves. You can also shop for candy in bulk before heading to the movie theater, if you prefer eating that while watching a flick. See what your local bulk food store has to offer (I know mine sells chocolate covered raisins so I may grab some of those next time). Here are a few other zero waste snacks
to consider making or bringing before the movie.
If you don’t have access to bulk food stores, consider buying snacks from the movie theater that are packaged in easy to recycle cardboard boxes (make sure to hold onto them if your movie theater has no recycling options).
Of course, your best option is to avoid snacks altogether. This is the healthiest solution too. Grab dinner beforehand and you won’t feel the need to snack as much.
Bring your own drink (or ask for yours in a reusable mug)
Movie theaters are infamous for their fountain drinks that come in plastic lined containers with plastic lids and straws. Try to avoid purchasing these. Instead, I just bring my reusable water bottle with me to the movies and keep it in my bag until I’m seated.
If you prefer something other than water, try bringing a reusable mug with you and asking them to fill it with the fountain drinks they offer. Either that or stop by CVS beforehand – I have one right next to my movie theater – and get a drink in sustainable packaging. Typically, I get a Teavana iced tea which is packaged in a glass bottle I can easily reuse or recycle. I have reused one and it now works as a container for my homemade zero waste cashew milk
. I stash it in my bag (right next to my jar of popcorn) until I’m seated in front of the big screen.
Save (or recycle) your ticket stubs
Ticket stubs are unavoidable at the movie theater. I have a ton of them. I keep all of them for sentimental value. You can place them in a memory box or random glass jar you have lying around (don’t be like me and leave them scattered about your room).
Also, depending on where you live, ticket stubs may be recyclable. I’m not sure if they can be recycled where I live (Staten Island, New York), and even after some digging it’s still a mystery. Check with your local recycling laws before putting them into the recycling bin.
Bring any leftovers home
Whatever you decide to bring (or get) at the movie theater, don’t just throw it away if you can’t finish it all by the end of the movie. Save it and bring it home with you to finish at a later time. Food waste is a big problem and contributes to methane gas – a greenhouse gas 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide. That’s because when food is dumped in the trash and sent to landfill, it does not decompose the right way. Due to lack of moisture and soil, organic matter produces methane (and other gases) in landfills.
To avoid contributing to food waste, do your part and take your leftovers home with you. I usually never have any leftovers (I drink and eat everything I bring), but I know it can happen. Sometimes your eyes are bigger than your mouth! If you have leftover popcorn, consider giving it to a neighbor who has chickens (I’ve heard they quite like popcorn). Or just keep it and eat it yourself (make sure to seal it in an airtight container when you get home to prevent it from getting stale too quickly).
Talk to the movie theater about more zero waste options
If all else fails and you’re absolutely repulsed at the waste your theater creates, consider talking to them about it. You can try contacting them via their social media pages, email or phone. Or maybe even asking for the manager while you’re there. Start off by telling them how much you value their theater and love coming there to see movies. Then ease into the problems you’ve seen regarding waste in their theater (ticket stubs on the floor, no recycling, excessive plastic packaging waste). Don’t dwell on this too long, just make them aware of what you’ve noticed. Finally, wrap up what you have to say by offering some zero waste alternatives (provide more than one option if you can), such as the possibility of offering bulk candy, a compost box for leftover popcorn, a ticket stub recycling box, etc. Give them your ideas and you may be surprised at how they respond!
Here is a sample letter of what you could send to your movie theater (or say over the phone/ in person):
Dear ( manager of theater/ movie theater name),
I absolutely love your movie theater and have been coming here many years. I really love the quality of your theaters and have made a lot of great memories in them.
I do my best to live zero waste, which means I refuse all single-use products in an attempt to divert as much trash to landfill as possible. I do this because too much plastic waste ends up polluting our waterways, lands, and our own backyards.
Unfortunately, your theater is not zero waste because (explain why and give expamples).
I would love to see your theater become more zero waste friendly. Might I suggest (2-3 options for a more zero waste theater that solves the problems listed earlier)?
Thank you for your time and I look forward to your feedback.
* This letter template was modified and adapted from Green Indy Blog‘s zero waste feedback letter. Go check out her amazing blog! *
Feel free to copy and paste this letter as needed. If you hear nothing back from the movie theater, remember to reach out again. Sometimes one letter isn’t enough, or you should try a different approach (speaking to the manager may help, if you feel bold, or contacting them on social media). Whatever the case, you never know what response you’ll get unless you try.
How do you stay zero waste at the movies?