Materials & Waste

Key questions

  • What are the main types of materials and products you spend your money on?
  • How much and what type of waste do you generate, and how is it dealt with or disposed of?
  • Where can you make changes directly e.g. choice of office supplies and merchandise or promotional materials, planning print runs and choosing printers, designing exhibitions, festival or event production?
  • Who do you need to work with to make changes e.g. landlords, local authorities, waste service providers, designers, suppliers, staff, audiences, visitors, event attendees?
  • What do you know about the environmental credentials of your suppliers and the materials or products they provide?

Linear vs Circular Economy

Focus first on how to avoid and reduce material use and waste. Source materials and products which are better for planet and people. Make sure that as little of your waste as possible ends up in landfill or incinerators.

Top Tips

Build understanding of what is coming into and out of your organisation - your building/s (office, venue, training facilities, collection storage etc) and for the events, festivals, exhibitions or tours you run.

  • Work out the main types of materials and products you spend your money on e.g. office supplies, print, exhibition or event materials (signage, banners, stands etc.), food and drink, equipment.
  • Start building a picture of the types and volumes of waste you generate (e.g. paper, toners, batteries, packaging, WEEE), how it is dealt with (e.g. landfill, incineration, recycling) and by whom.
  • If you do festivals, events or exhibitions or tours, choose one to start with.
  • Work with your waste companies to get more and better information. If they can’t help, look at your options for changing to companies which can.
  • If you use a range of different waste services, look at your options for consolidating all or at least your main waste services under one contract.
  • Ask those who manage waste on your behalf e.g. landlords, local authorities, hired venues how they can help you better understand your waste.
  • Bring in someone to do an independent waste audit.

Take a step back and ‘rethink’ your needs:

  • What do you need to do what you do?
  • Are there alternatives ways to meet our needs e.g. hiring, sharing, borrowing locally instead of purchasing new?
  • Can you develop new approaches e.g. designing exhibition or events displays for disassembly and reuse or putting this in the design brief?
  • Can you reduce the need e.g. rethinking print runs or using print-on-demand to avoid over-printing, providing less merchandise or doing without it, designing signage and banners for reuse at different events?

Use your purchasing power:

  • Select a few key types of materials or products or specific events or activities you want to start making changes on, based on e.g. areas of high spend, high environmental impact, high brand visibility, more easily influenced/controlled.
  • Start making changes. Refer to the materials choice hierarchy below and consider life cycle impacts i.e. what is the material or product made from, where does it come from, who made it, how is it transported, what impact does it have in use and at the end of its use.
  • Set up a list ‘preferred’ and ‘red’ list of suppliers, materials or products e.g. printers which use non-toxic inks and processes, Forestry Stewardship Council wood and wood-based products, recycled or sustainably sourced and unchlorinated paper, no vinyl in signage and banners, no PVC, no polystyrene.
  • Engage with existing suppliers to find out their environmental credentials and what sustainable options they are already providing or can provide.
  • Start making changes when making new purchasing decisions.
  • Ask new suppliers what their environmental credentials are and what sustainable options they can provide.

As a general rule, follow the materials choice hierarchy when selecting and acquiring materials (1 being the best choice and 6 the last resort):

  1. Avoid unnecessary materials use or purchases.
  2. Hire or borrow materials.
  3. Use reclaimed, repurposed or recycled materials
  4. Choose low impact materials; natural or organic; sourced with care for nature and human rights; non air-freighted; energy and resource efficient; non-polluting and non-harmful to human health in use; made or supplied by companies with strong environmental and ethical credentials.
  5. Choose materials which can be returned, repaired, reused, or recycled at the end of their use.
  6. Avoid or limit high impact materials; virgin materials; materials which contain toxic or polluting chemicals or substances e.g. PVC, solvents; fossil-fuel based materials (notably single-use plastics); materials which generate hazardous waste at the end of their use.

Make sure there is a clear approach to separating, storing and managing your different waste streams – regularly occurring waste such as paper, cardboard, plastic and general waste, food, batteries, toners, and, waste which occurs on a more ad hoc basis e.g. WEEE, old furniture and fittings, wood, used paints or solvents.

Share and communicate with your staff, cleaning contractors, audiences, visitors, event attendees etc. what you are doing and what they can do to help.

Materials & Waste


Image of plastic covering someone, an artwork-type image
Julie's Bicycle - Culture Beyond Plastic: Understanding and Eliminating
This report, developed under Arts Council England's environmental programme, explores the environmental issues associated with plastics and what the creative sector can do to tackle plastic pollution, providing practical tips and case studies from across the UK.
Silhouette image of crowd at bright music festival
Julie’s Bicycle Guide ‘Raising the Bar: Choosing the Most Sustainable Cup Type for Your Indoor Venue’
This report aims to support indoor venues of all sizes with clear guidance on the most environmentally sustainable cup solutions. It summarises key findings from previous reports, provides a snapshot of current cup systems in use at UK indoor venues and sets out best practice guidance.
Creative Carbon Scotland - Guide to preventing, reducing and recycling waste
This guide explains the rights and responsibilities of Scottish arts and cultural organisations when considering waste, including short case studies from Green Arts Initiative members and links to further resources.
Image overlooking a collection of wooden laminates with numbers and letters
Julie’s Bicycle and Seacourt - Closed Loop Printing Guide
This guide is based on Seacourt's Planet Positive Printing approach and provides information for creative organisations on sustainable printing options.
BFI Film Audience Network - Green Hour - Sustainable Procurement
Video / Webinar
This webinar looks at how to implement ethical, low-carbon procurement processes, and the organisational demands and benefits of responsible sourcing. Natasha Padbury (Office & Sustainability Manager, Depot Cinema) and Simon Curtis (Chair, Greater Manchester Arts Sustainability Team) share practical examples from their experiences of working with local suppliers, and provide inspiration on how to make place-based, climate-driven decisions that lead to meaningful change.
Reusable Festival Cups
Manchester City Council - Reusable Cups at Events: Why it matters and how to do it
The guide for organisers of outdoor events in Manchester (and beyond) is relevant for urban and greenfield sites, one-day and multiday events, large and small. It is also applicable for indoor event management, and of interest to anyone serving drinks in licensed premises. It outlines the benefits of reusable cups, provides advice about how to manage reusable cup systems, and offers examples and tips.
Food Packaging
Hubbub - Reuse systems unpacked: challenges and opportunities for food and drink packaging
This guide explores the challenges and opportunities for reusable food and drink packaging.
Julie's Bicycle - Re-thinking Materials and Circular Economy
Video / Webinar
This webinar, delivered under Arts Council England’s Environmental programme, explores ecological and circular economy principles, and how they can transform the way we use sustainable design and material choices in creative and cultural organisations. Speakers includes Oksana Bondar, Biohm’s Head of Design and Paul Gardner, Head of Seacourt.
A horizontal stack of collapsed cardboard
Julie's Bicycle - Waste Management in Buildings
This guide outlines a practical approach to waste management in cultural and creative buildings – venues, offices and other types of cultural buildings, of all sizes and uses. It covers the basic principles of waste types and waste treatment, as well as waste management, broken down into short, medium and long-term solutions.
Shambala festival outdoors recycling bins
Vision 2025 and Julie's Bicycle - Sustainable Materials and Waste Management
This toolkit is part of the on-going Towards Zero Waste Festivals initiative. It provides festival organisers with information on practical, easy to implement waste management processes, to help improve practices, and encourage re-use of materials and reduce waste, including practical checklists, templates for developing policies and guidance on specific waste management questions.
Julie's Bicycle - Can We Make Touring Greener?
Reflections and recommendations on greener touring and green riders – how to approach and what to ask of host venues.

Materials & Waste


Metal Culture's journey to selecting more sustainable suppliers
Recycle bin
Depot Lewes approach to sustainable procurement and waste management
Printing machine
What does circular printing look like - case studies from Hampshire Cultural Trust and Koestler Arts
A Tangled Negative Filmstrip
Green Film Festival @UEA
People outdoors, high street with Scott Cinemas on the left of the image
Scott Cinemas' Waste Management approach
Image Credits
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