I think this will be an ongoing series of articles, because the subject is just too big for a single article. The solution or rather, scope for improvement, is a little less daunting. We need infrastructure in order to be efficient, much infrastructure already exists in the UK compared to that of other countries and these facilities reduce our carbon footprint as well as providing jobs in the sector.
An experienced designer will hire props form a prop house, rather than purchasing new items from dozens of retail sources, which have to be mailed across the country or picked by a van covering hundreds of miles instead of just pulling up at the prop house loading bay. Purchases have to be skipped as a rule or sent home with the crew, who will generally bin them eventually anyway. Hired props go back to be hired again and again and are protected against damage by prop transport and Art Department throught their very long lives.
This designer would also use a construction manager to build the set, with stock flattage, bracing comsumeables and equipment. The job, being done on price, would therefore be done with the minimum of waste and unused materials would go back into stock after the strike, as opposed to using much less qualified construction people, counting on lower wages to compete and capitalising on low base material costs to allow for the huge levels of waste thus incurred. Also, lack of infrastructure means very little can be stored by such labour, therefore large amounts consumeable items are lost on each project.
The only way one can conserve the amount of materials used on a set build is through the efforts and experience of the construction manager. There is a naturally occurring wish to conserve materials by those who have the ability to do so, but it can not be entered into lightly however, as only maticulous husbandry and long experience makes this process viable. Labour, even cheap labour, is expensive and if a proven stocking level for each material is not established, all you get is clutter, huge storage overheads and eventually, more waste.
We struggled with this to begin with and have only now arrived at good solid stock levels to work within, for each material and consumeable we regularly use.
Of course the issue of recycling and waste for film and TV needs a good deal more discussion than this as it requires a fundamental change of thinking rather than any real structural changes, such things can be achieved quickly but rarely if ever are.