Eva Radke spends her days surrounded by stuff: a jar of dried bees, French cinema posters, a stuffed hawk, middle school sports trophies, a casket, a bust of Joseph Stalin, a cluster of ceramic kittens, a collection of 1990s cell phones that could double as barbells, and much—so much—more. Looking for a Marie Antoinette costume? Radke has that. An early-20th-century birthing chair? She has that, too. "It's like a surprise party in every box of donations," she says.
But her collection isn't simply an homage to quirk. As founder of Film Biz Recycling (FBR), the only nonprofit prop house on the East Coast, Radke is making an ambitious—and groundbreaking—effort to tackle one of the entertainment industry's best-kept secrets: its epic waste problem.
In 2007 she was working as an art department coordinator on a toothpaste commercial. The director requested fresh mint plants—almost impossible to find in January, but Radke was determined. "Finally I found someone in Florida who agreed to hydroponically grow them for me," she recalls. The whole enterprise, which included transporting the fragile plants on a specially heated plane, cost about $8,000. In the end, the clients decided to go with plastic plants instead. After all that work, not to mention the carbon footprint, Radke—who has seen entire homes' worth of furnishings summarily junked at the end of shoots—knew she had to find a way to salvage the industry's castoffs.
The next year Radke started FBR, which accepts donated items from sets all across New York City; old friends know exactly whom to call when a project wraps. With a staff of 12, she determines whether each item should be sold (all proceeds fund operations), stored for future rentals, or sent to women's shelters or local nonprofits. When Hurricane Sandy hit last fall, FBR donated staples to hard-hit communities like the Rockaways. "What would have been garbage was now, in the wake of disaster, a lifesaver," Radke says.
In five years, FBR has diverted 330 tons of furniture, electronics, and textiles from landfills. "I want people in the film industry to know their work is useful," Radke says, "whether they're propping a blockbuster or a dud."
Next: See a few of FBR's funkier offerings