Amazon’s new hit show, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, took viewers back to the beautiful world of Middle-earth, once again filmed in New Zealand. But the country’s pristine landscape may suffer from this and other production, as workers speaking to The Guardian described widespread waste and a lack of care for the local environment.
The Guardian analyzed set photographs and reviewed leaked internal communications from the show’s environmental team. They also interviewed production workers, who anonymously expressed concerns about the environmental impacts of recent productions in New Zealand.
“If big companies want to come to this country and use the beauty there, [there’s a duty] to preserve the beauty,” Joe (alias) told the Guardian. “They get tax cuts and then we end up with all their garbage. It’s heartbreaking. I feel like New Zealanders are completely taken advantage of.
To create sets, power rings production teams built large fake environments using plastics, which were then discarded. Leaked internal communications show how the environmental team struggled with the amount of stuff thrown away. The Guardian reported that internal communications from July 2021 noted that the show had already produced enough litter to fill around four and a half Olympic-size swimming pools; another internal memo described how the production created 390 tons of landfill waste.
It’s not like the show has to take any shortcuts: Reports this spring said it had a budget of $465 million.
The studios tried to make up for some of that, according to The Guardian. Crews used reusable water bottles and were encouraged to eat vegetarian meals at least once a week. Other initiatives included charging stations for electric vehicles and the recycling of paper and batteries. But crew members who spoke to The Guardian didn’t think it was enough to undo the huge amount of waste created.
“These massive ice walls and pieces of rock wall – they’re shattered into a million pieces,” a worker told The Guardian. “If someone would sit outside one of these big productions and see how many dumpsters come out every day…Trucks and trucks and trucks of polystyrene and wood and everything else, mixed together in plastic… and really just thrown in a hole in the ground.”
Then there were the logistics of moving workers around New Zealand with their equipment. Although some of the sets are fabricated, the show also features natural environments across New Zealand’s islands, including the Denize Bluffs, which are towering limestone cliffs surrounded by verdant forests, according to People Magazine. The show also featured Mount Kidd. The mountain looks like something out of a fairy tale, with snow and beautiful lakes. Crews reached the area to film by airlifting a few people at a time by helicopter, People Magazine reported.
In a written statement to The Guardian, an Amazon spokesperson wrote: “Sustainability practices in New Zealand for the first season of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power met or exceeded industry standards, even at the height of the pandemic. The company claimed to be compliant with the country’s environmental laws and said many of the materials used during production were donated or recycled.
In August 2021, Amazon announced that power ringsThe production of would move to the UK for its second season. Whether environmental concerns will follow the show into its new home remains to be seen.
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