How ‘She-Hulk’ Is Embracing On-Screen Sustainability

Director and exec producer Kat Coiro partnered with the "Lights, Camera, Plastic" initiative to reduce single-use plastics like water bottles and to-go containers on the Disney+ series.

She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is going green in more ways than one.

Along with its titular superheroes, the Disney+ show is also embracing sustainability thanks to executive producer Kat Coiro, who directed six of the series’ nine episodes.

Coiro teamed with environmental nonprofit Habits of Waste to take pointers from their “Lights, Camera, Plastic” campaign, which aims to avoid single-use plastics on screen, replacing them with reusable and eco-friendly items. Coiro previously used the same techniques on her film Marry Me, and will officially put the initiative into action via a partnership with Paramount on the upcoming The Spiderwick Chronicles, of which she’s directing the first two episodes.

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For She-Hulk, “I just tried anytime I could to eradicate single-use plastic from the screen — that meant if characters are having lunch outside the office, instead of having to-go containers, I would make sure that they had reusable containers; it meant instead of plastic water bottles, using Hydro Flasks throughout the show,” Coiro tells The Hollywood Reporter. She notes that the first episode of the series heavily features She-Hulk (Tatiana Maslany) and her cousin Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) eating from a plastic bag of Cheetos: “Obviously that’s such a big part of the story so that’s not something that we were going to change, but pretty much everything else is plastic-free in the show.”

Coiro had a key partner in her environmental efforts in Ruffalo, who is a major climate activist; she first realized his passion when the two were on set working on a scene showing the Hulk’s pantry, which, in reference to the Cheetos scene, was stuffed with junk food: “He took one look at it and he said, ‘Oh, no, no, kids will be watching this, we have to put healthy things in Hulk’s pantry.’ So we swapped out all the potato chips and blue dye no. 17 items with tuna fish and beans.”

Kat Coiro and Mark Ruffalo on set of She-Hulk Courtesy of Kat Coiro

“He understands the power of the media and he understands what it means to put these images on the screen, especially on a global level, and how it does affect people,” Coiro said of Ruffalo. “And that really is the underlying philosophy behind ‘Lights, Camera, Plastic,’ is that what we show on the screen influences people, subconsciously it influences people’s choices. And so if we can, in a subtle way that doesn’t affect story, just start to go, ‘Plastic isn’t cool,’ just like smoking was deemed not cool.”

Hollywood’s handling of smoking is a frequent comparison for what Habits of Waste hopes to achieve with reducing the portrayal of plastic, in how when the detrimental effects of cigarettes became more normalized, smoking in media saw a drastic decline. The organization notes that 1 million plastic bottles are discarded per minute, 500 million plastic straws are discarded per day, and 40 billion pieces of plastic cutlery are discarded per year.

“I call ‘Lights, Camera, Plastic’ the gateway drug to larger environmental ideas because it’s a very small thing. It’s a baby step,” says Coiro. “If people start thinking about, ‘Huh, what are the things I’m putting on screen that are not sustainable?’ then you start thinking about much bigger things.” She adds that she frequently sees people overwhelmed by the issue of climate change and so they end up doing nothing; this initiative “is this very tangible, very simple, very doable thing. Are we solving all the big problems of production, sustainability and waste? No, absolutely not. But we’re starting the conversation in a very easy-to-grasp way.”

For those producers, directors and showrunners who want to follow in her footsteps, Coiro recommends starting small with something like working with the prop department to swap out plastic water bottles in a scene, and talking to one’s studio about what sustainability programs they have available.

“The more we can all interconnect and the more we can all work together, I think the more of a difference we can all make,” she says, adding the importance of using a mythical world like She-Hulk to share these sustainable messages. “We want to eventually build a real world that doesn’t include excessive waste, so why not start with the little world that we build on the screen?”