Our Bin Doctor-in-Chief (and long-term Corrie fan) Karen Cannard has had a rare chance to explore behind-the-scenes AND the bins of Weatherfield to see for herself how Coronation Street is waving the flag for waste reduction amongst its ambitions to become Sustainability Street.
There are moments when you say to yourself “I have got the best job ever” and when you’re poking about in Ken Barlow’s bins while talking rubbish with the Head of Production of your favourite soap opera, that most definitely counts as the best of the best.
Meet Robbie Sandison, Corrie’s Head of Production, who has been with the show since 2010. In that time he has overseen major storylines such as the live Tram Disaster episode as well as moving Coronation Street from its home at Granada Studios in Manchester to its new location at Media City. While most of us move home wondering how we’re going to fit in our furniture, the production team were researching old cobbles from Salford to reuse in their new set.
I first met Robbie at the Observer Ethical Awards last year. To be honest, I don’t know what he and the team made of my almost self-combusting combo of enthusiastic Corrie fangirl and waste-busting geekery. So you can just imagine my even greater excitement at being invited to the studios for a closer glimpse. From the moment I arrived it was easy to see how sustainability has become a key driving force at Corrie HQ.
Robbie Sandison takes climate change seriously and with responsibility for up to 400 staff and a show that has 4 units, filming up to 7pm, 5 days a week, he recognises how the impact of small changes is substantial at such a scale.
In the office environment, under-desk waste bins are now a thing of the past and have been replaced by communal waste and recycling bins. They can be seen everywhere and are replicated at key points throughout the facilities, including the studios. These are part of ITV’s general facilities management, where recycling is diverted to an external ‘Dirty MRF’, which sorts out the separate material streams.
However, working in an industry that has a lot potential for creating lots of waste, Coronation Street considers recycling to be the last resort in waste minimisation and is working hard to focus on the principles of Reduce and Reuse first.
In 2013, whilst still at the Granada site, the production office spent £3,625.90 on paper cups for the cast and crew. That’s 101 cardboard boxes filled with 101,000 paper cups. Following the move to the new site, Coronation Street took the decision to ditch disposable paper cups and invest in ceramic mugs instead. Travel mugs have also been introduced for on-location filming. Having also calculated that 11,172 water bottles were used between January-April 2014 (an average of 900 half-litre bottles of water a week), Corrie has also taken steps to reduce this, investing in reusable water bottles. Elsewhere, where it is possible within the production process, iPads are being introduced to reduce paper wastage.
Waste prevention is on the canteen’s agenda too, especially regarding minimising food waste. The catering company remains vigilant on production schedule numbers on a day-to-day basis, reducing menu options as required. Portion control is in place and at the end of the day surplus food is used where possible the following day.
Packaging is also bio-degradeable and sized accordingly to reduce waste. Cardboard and boxes are all recycled and suppliers are also aware of Corrie’s needs and requirements.
As Robbie took me on a tour of the set and studios, it was evident that the branding of Sustainability Street is used strongly throughout the facilities. As well as good corporate vision, internal communications are essential to supporting change across an organisation. I love these examples of mission statement posters with contributions from the various departments around the company.
Buy-in across the board has been fundamental in developing change and over 80 members of staff have now undertaken a TV Carbon Literacy training course (developed by ITV in conjunction with other stakeholders), focusing on the science behind climate change and how they can use their roles in TV production to tackle it. This has empowered and inspired people to take the lead in reducing the show’s carbon footprint in their own area of work, whether that’s on or off camera.
Dan Jackson, Corrie’s Production Manager has led much of this and his work has resulted in Coronation Street achieving the Albert+ Sustainable Production accreditation, which is proudly displayed at the end of the credits. Coronation Street is now recognised as one of the key flagship productions leading the sector. More information about this, including a great case study from Dan, can be found at WeareAlbert.org.
PROPS AND COSTUME
Continuing our tour, I was introduced to the Props Department, an amazing resource where nothing gets thrown away. Anyone recognise that classic portrait of Alf Roberts, which used to take pride of place in his and Audrey’s home? Now there’s a character that I still miss and it’s great to see him still in full view above the props department desk.
As well being a historic repository for the show, the props department also has an essential reuse function, storing furniture and accessories that are brought back into use instead of new items having to be repurchased.
To the right of the cushion aisle is a small outdoor space where even old plants are nurtured and maintained, not just thrown away when they no longer have an immediate use.
Important key pieces that aren’t needed for a while are stored away and catalogued under the character’s name, so they can be brought back easily for a future shoot. Other pieces remain available for reuse in new sets.
Elsewhere in the Joinery Department, all scenery is made in-house using FSC sourced wood. That’s reused too and when Coronation Street no longer has a need for it, it is passed on to local theatre groups.
The Costume Department has its own part to play too.
Although most of the wardrobe pieces are brought in from fashion stores, where duplicates can be supplied or exchanged for different sizes, the costume department seeks out vintage and second hand items for special costume requirements that are then customised and altered. The department is keen on brands that are more ethical and sustainable such as Tara Starlet and also works closely with local designers and makers too to keep its carbon footprint down, especially for the characters Izzy and Sinead for a more handmade look, plus a local vintage and recycled fashion shop Junkshop based in the Northern quarter.
Some key pieces such as wedding dresses are made in-house, with spare material that can be used to repair any damage that might incur on-set. For Beth and Kirk’s wedding last year the team gave itself the challenge of making it as sustainable and as ethical as possible, using vintage and second hand, taking items from stock and altering and customising them. Even the corsages were made from recycled fabric scrap.
Line drying is an important aspect of Corrie’s sustainability programme and a bespoke built-in drying area has replaced the Costume Department’s previous heavy usage of tumble dryers. They also wash on 30 degrees C and make a policy of always filling the machines before using them. Coronation Street’s laundry policy has had a great impact on reducing the show’s carbon footprint and brings other benefits too, including helping to extend the life of clothes. The department also repairs costumes rather than just going out and buying new again.
ONTO THE COBBLES!
Admittedly I had to brace myself when I first set foot onto the cobbles of Coronation Street itself. Robbie reassured me that I’m not the only one to have needed a moment and venturing onto the street can turn even the most earnest of politicians giddy.
How they use the street scene is also fascinating and is highly efficient. The flat above Audrey’s salon is a control room and behind the surgery façade lies not just the doctors’ reception but also the set for Highfield Prison and Weatherfield General Hospital – which in turn has been used to film a scene in a Welsh hospital, with just some simple changes to the signage. Amongst this glorious TV trickery there is an equal pleasure in discovering that when you walk through the doors of Underworld, you really do walk onto the set of the underwear factory, allbeit approaching from what seems like the wrong angle. Coronation Street really is pretty much self-contained, so much that it even has its own allotment. The way in which it efficiently manages its space means that fewer journeys are needed for external shots.
BEHIND THE BINS
Corrie’s production team is well aware that with such a large audience (holding a regular share of between 35-38% in the ratings), it has the ability to help normalise behaviour change. Climate Change and associated topics are generally difficult to bring into everyday storylines but where it is relevant the editorial department tries to weave in great ideas that can inspire and help make a difference, for instance Beth and Kirk’s fabulous upcycled wedding.
There are also other ways too, via subtle background settings. For instance when they moved to the Media City premises, the set designers brought in wheelie bins for recycling, which are now commonly seen in the backyards and the guinnell. You may have even spotted the on-street recycling bins outside the surgery.
The household bins are loosely based on Salford’s collection in Greater Manchester. However, poking my nose in to see what’s inside I had to remember that these are used as props only and not be too surprised at the fake snow instead of a bin full of paper and card.
Onto the studio, I had the chance to visit some of the sets and I couldn’t resist the opportunity for a closer look at the Platts’ kitchen. I wanted to see the type of bin that the Platts would use and if you look carefully, you can just see it poking out at the end of the cupboards on the left.
Typically, the Platts would use the black pedal bin for rubbish only. For a moment I couldn’t help switching into Bin Doctor mode and wondered ‘in theory’ what would this fictional family do with their recycling? With one bin only, does that mean that they have to carry their recycling out to the wheelie bin in the back garden? Increasingly in society, we are seeing families use an additional bin for recycling in their kitchen, or a dual-bin, so they can they can make recycling much easier and more convenient.
I asked Robbie whether there could be scope to introduce dual bins into any of the Corrie kitchen sets. There is a real subtle difference at first glance but it can make a huge difference to help normalise recycling behaviour when actions are set around bins, especially when filming something that is being thrown away.
And the same goes for food waste too. Would Corrie be introducing food waste caddies at any point soon? Perhaps not yet but food ties in very closely to some of Coronation Street’s storylines, where the emphasis is on serving smaller portions. The script-writers are great at using light dialogue to cover such topics. Only recently the subject of food banks came up in a conversation between Roy and Cathy about surplus cakes.
Of course it wouldn’t be possible to visit the sets without seeing any sign of filming and against the hush of the darkened studios, there was a surreal moment when I caught a glimpse of Sally, Tim, Mary and Norris having a verbal affray in Sally’s dining room.
Talking of the cast, the impact of the Coronation Street’s work on sustainability has also had a positive influence on cast members themselves. In the Observer Ethical Awards video, Alan Halsall, who plays Tyrone Hobbs, reveals his own thoughts:
“And now I’m taking a little bit home with me, trying to be more environmentally friendlier at home, bit more recycling. We’re looking to do a building project at home at some point and we’re trying to be a more greener, looking into solar panels, ground source heat pumps etc. I think it’s had a knock on effect but to see it done as a collective here through work I think it’s fantastic.”
You can see the extent of Corrie’s efforts and its impact, including commentary from Alan and other members, in the Observer Ethical awards video here. It’s great to hear that Sair Khan, who plays Alya Nazir, also has her own wormery.
With the sustainability awards taking centre stage in the display cabinet of achievements and TV accolades, Robbie Sandison doesn’t see this as marking the end of Corrie’s efforts. He recognises that there is lots more that can be done. As viewers, we can expect to see more threads of sustainability lightly woven into the storylines as Corrie continues to entertain. Behind the scenes. the team continues to implement new ideas as well as share its learning with colleagues in the industry, including ITV’s other continuing drama Emmerdale.
As I wave goodbye to my fictional friends in Weatherfield and what has been a fascinating glimpse at my favourite soap, my mind whirrs with a cunning plan. But just like those story editors, I’m not quite ready to let the cat out of the bag right right now. Instead, it’s time for kettle-on, settle down to the sound of the all-familiar theme tune and see if Tracey Barlow can seduce her man with a reuseable Gerbera. Yes, just in case you’ve wondered, the background blooms in her latest venture at Preston Petals are sensibly all silk stems. The real things are limited to just foreground action – and should eventually be regenerated into compost.
If you work in TV or film production and want to follow Corrie’s sustainable footsteps, you’ll find lots of inspiration at wearealbert.org. And if you’re keen to make a difference at home, there are lots of ideas out there to beat recycling confusion and reduce food waste. We’re always here to help at The Rubbish Diet. Sign up for our free challenge and you could find your bin a third slimmer in just three weeks.