Amazon’s new hit show, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, brought viewers back to the gorgeous world Middle-earth, once again filmed in New Zealand. But the country’s pristine landscape may be suffering under this production and others, as workers speaking to The Guardian described vast waste and lack of care for the local environment.
The Guardian analyzed photographs of sets and looked at leaked internal communications from the show’s environmental team. They also interviewed production workers, who spoke anonymously about their concerns over the environmental impacts of recent productions in New Zealand.
“If huge corporations want to come to this country and use the beauty that’s here, [there’s a duty] to preserve the beauty,” Joe (alias), told The Guardian. “They’re getting tax cuts, and then we’re left with all their trash. It’s heartbreaking. I feel like New Zealanders are being completely taken advantage of.”
To create sets, The Rings of Power production crews built large fake environments using plastics, which were later discarded. Leaked internal communications show how the environmental team struggled with just how much stuff was thrown away. The Guardian reported that internal communications from July 2021 noted that the show had already produced enough waste to fill about four-and-a-half Olympic-sized swimming pools; another internal memo described how production had created 390 tons of landfill waste.
It’s not like the show needed to cut corners: Reports from this spring said it had a budget of a whopping $465 million.
The studios did try to offset some of this, according to The Guardian. Crews have used reusable bottle waters and were encouraged to eat vegetarian meals at least once a week. Other initiatives included electric vehicle charging stations and paper and battery recycling. But the crew members who spoke to The Guardian didn’t think it was enough to cancel out the tremendous amount of trash created.
“These massive ice walls and rock wall set pieces–they get smashed into a million pieces,” a worker told The Guardian. “If anyone went and sat outside one of these big productions and saw how many skip bins are going out every day…Truckloads and truckloads and truckloads of polystyrene and timber and all the rest of it, mixed up in plastic…and really just thrown into a hole in the ground.”
Then there was the logistics of moving workers around New Zealand with their equipment. Though some of the sets are manufactured, the show also features natural environments all over New Zealand’s islands, including the Denize Bluffs, which are towering limestone cliffs surrounded by lush green forests, according to People Magazine. The show has also featured Mount Kidd. The mountain looks like something out of a fairytale, complete with snow and beautiful lakes. Crews reached the area to film by being flown in a few people at a time via helicopter, People Magazine reported.
In a written statement to The Guardian, a spokesperson from Amazon wrote: “Sustainability practices in New Zealand for the first season of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power either met or exceeded industry standards, even during the height of the pandemic.” The company claimed to be compliant with the country’s environmental laws said that a lot of materials used during production were donated or recycled.
In August 2021, Amazon announced that The Rings of Power’s production would move to the UK for its second season. Whether the environmental concerns will follow the show to its new home remains to be seen.