Creative Carbon Scotland’s Guide to Preventing, Reducing and Recycling Waste

27th May 2020

Creative Carbon Scotland's Guide to Waste 1

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.

The guide contains: 

  • The policy background for waste reduction 
  • An introduction to the waste hierarchy  
  • Preventing and reducing waste 
  • How to re-use waste both within your organisation and by collaborating with others 
  • Information on recycling, including details on the responsibilities of waste producers and collectors and Waste Transfer Notes 
  • Links to further help and resources 

Policy background

The Scottish Government has set a 2025 target of reducing waste arising by 15% against 2011 levels and recycling 70% of remaining waste, with no more than 5% of remaining waste going to landfill. Food waste should be cut by 33% with all food businesses generating more than 5kg being required to recycle their food waste. The government has also developed a legal framework for a deposit return scheme for drinks containers that will go live in July 2022.  

These targets form part of the Scottish Government’s aim to move towards a circular economy’ where products and materials are kept in use for as long as possible, as opposed to a ‘linear economy’, which is dependent on increasing exploitation of natural resources. A more circular economy has clear environmental benefits as well as potential community, resilience, and economic co-benefits. 

Support for these regulations is primarily handled by the government’s resource efficiency delivery partner, Zero Waste Scotland, and more detail is provided in the Scottish Government publication ‘Making Things Last: a circular economy strategy for Scotland’. There is also a Circular Economy Investment Fund that offers financial support.  

Individuals and organisations are responsible for handling their own waste correctly to contribute to these targets. However, the quantities and qualities of waste produced by the arts and culture sector are highly varied: a large theatre may strike a set with industrial building materials, an arts office may produce a large amount of paper and packaging waste, and an individual maker may have raw material offcuts of no immediate use. Generalisation is difficult, but there are resources and opportunities of specific interest to aspects of the arts and culture sector, which this guide will draw attention to.  

A Circular Economy (Make-Maintain-Repair-Reuse-Redistribute-Recycle-Make) compared to a Linear Economy (Take-Make-Use-Dispose-Pollute)

A simple comparison of the Circular and Linear Economies. For a more detailed infographic, visit


The Waste Hierarchy

This guide is laid out according to the principles of the Waste Hierarchy, which ranks waste management options in order of preference, giving priority to the best environmental outcomes. It’s like the old saying ‘Reduce. Reuse. Recycle’ (in that order!). We encourage you to consider options in this order when planning your waste management.  

  • Prevent (or reduce) unnecessary use of resources in the first place 
  • Reuse items or allow someone else to reuse them 
  • Recycle resources into new items 
  • Recover some value from resources through other means 
  • Dispose of resources, often to landfill, the last resort

The first three steps have potential to create a circular economy-style ‘closed loop’ where resources can be continually repurposed, while the last two lead to materials being used up, resulting in further exploitation of natural resources.  

The Waste Hierarchy presented as an inverted pyramid. Working down from the top: Prevent, Reuse, Recycle, Recover, Value, Dispose

The waste hierarchy, showing proportionally how much emphasis should be placed on each area.



There can be as much as ten times more environmental and commercial value gained through waste prevention than can be salvaged through waste recovery, so it is sensible to prioritise this first. 

  • Consider undertaking a waste audit over a specific timescale to better understand what materials you are wasting, and why you are producing the amount of waste you do. Support is available from Zero Waste Scotland for those undertaking this step. It is also possible to get an external consultancy firm to carry out an audit.  
  • Identify the waste hotspots for your building or organisational practices to find out what to target. Where do you produce the most waste? 
  • When procuring materials, consider buying more expensive high-quality materials that will last longer, saving money in the long-term.   
  • Consider buying second hand. You can use Revolve to find certified quality second hand shops or make use of resources such as the Community Resources Network ScotlandEdinburgh Scrap Store, Edinburgh RemakeryMaterial Considerationsthe Fringe Swap Shop and the Circular Arts Network, or salvage yards to get hold of leftover and sustainably sourced materials.  Music Broth in Glasgow has a library of second-hand musical instruments and equipment.  
  • Use digital or creative marketing methods to cut down on your use of paper, use ‘e-ticketing’, or see if you can ‘go paperless’ in offices. 
  • Build waste prevention principles into your procurement policy if you have one (e.g. that you don’t buy things on repeat order or subscription, but only when the need arises) 
  • You can apply to the Waste Prevention Implementation Fund for funding to carry out waste prevention measures within your processes or do some free online training 
News: Fringe Swap Shop praised by Zero Waste Scotland

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe Swap Shop provides an opportunity to share and source second-hand props and set materials.


Case Study: Edinburgh International Book Festival

The Edinburgh International Book Festival developed a list of questions to be considered when procuring goods and services for their events, aiming to ensure the quality and sustainability of the materials, ultimately leading to less waste. These questions include: 

  • Is the item made of a biodegradable material or recycled materials?
  • Could this item be hired or borrowed, rather than purchased?
  • Can any packaging be returned to the supplier? If not, can it be recycled?
  • Can any un-used items be returned?

The festival also requested a copy of an environmental policy from all suppliers and, if they didn’t have one, sent a copy of the festival’s own policy as a potential starting point to create one.


Case Study: Nevis Ensemble

Nevis Ensemble developed a few simple principles for preventing the accumulation of waste while on tour, including providing all musicians with reusable cups for hot and cold drinks, refusing single-use plastics within host organisationshome-baking road snacks (reducing commercial packaging waste) and sorting waste on-the-go, enabling it to be recycled at a suitable tour stop. 



If certain materials are ultimately necessary for you to undertake your activities, the consumption of some resources might be unavoidable. However, you can still seek to reuse the materials in preference to disposing of them.  

Internal Reuse

It is often possible to embed reuse into your daily activities, depending on what kind of space you operate in: 

  • In office spaces you can refill printer cartridges instead of buying new and reuse envelopes and packaging by completely covering the previous address and postage. Repair and re-use computers and other electronics, which tend to involve rarer and more polluting materials.  
  • For catering you can replace disposable crockery and cutlery with reusable equivalents or re-integrate unused food into other dishes such as soups 
  • In bathrooms you can divert sink water to toilet cisterns. 
  • Theatre sets can be creatively designed to allow materials to be reused in future productionsYou can also use Reset Scenery, Set Exchange or The Props List to offer or obtain resources. 
  • For those operating temporary venues, organisations like Cup Club and Green Goblet offer reusable and returnable alternatives to disposable plastic cups. You can read more about plastic cups in our guide.  
  • Make use of social enterprises such as Edinburgh Remakery or SHRUB Coop for support on repairing and reusing resources. These both offer training and workshops as well as offering repairs and second-hand items. The Scottish Institute for Remanufacture also offer support and funding for repair and reuse projects.  

External reuse

It is also possible to make connections with other organisations that are likely to be able to reuse your waste product, helping them to prevent waste arising in their work.  

  • Contact other artistic practitioners who may be able to use your discarded materials: many individual makers or small productions can benefit from small quantities of waste metal, wood, and plastics.  
  • Quite often it is possible to reuse packaging and packaging offcuts: see if your supplier can take back packaging they use in your deliveries. 
  • Consider donating unwanted furniture or goods to charity shops, or advertising them on websites such as GumtreeFreecycle, or PrelovedYou can also donate materials to initiatives such as the Edinburgh Scrap Store or the Fringe Swap Shop. Zero Waste Scotland offer an online tool to find local organisations to donate to.  

Case Study: Reset Scenery

Reset Scenery is not for profit company, based in Glasgow, that facilitates the reuse of unwanted theatre sets, props and furniture, promotes sustainable construction methods, and provides sector-specific recycling. You can read a detailed case study from them on our website

Case Study: Creative and Sustainable Re-use with Reset Scenery 3

Reset Scenery reuses unwanted props and set materials.



The Scottish Government objectives for waste concentrate on the preference of high-quality material reuse and recycling, which maintains the value of resources for as long as possible. This means recycling materials into a new product of similar function, allowing them to be continually recycled, potentially indefinitely. For example, a glass bottle or aluminium can could be recycled into another glass bottle or aluminium can rather than a lower quality product. Reuse is still preferable as recycling processes do consume energy and can involve some emissions.  

Maintaining this circular approach is dependent on avoiding contamination in recycling, especially between ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ waste. Mixed dry recycling can be separated out later if need be, but if dry recycling is contaminated with food waste it may mean that the whole batch must be rejected and sent to landfill. Frequently occurring problems include food containers not being washed out or cardboard contaminated with grease from food still being put in recycling.  

Organisations are required to: 

  • Present glass, metal, plastic, paper, and card (including cardboard), ideally for separate collection although mixed ‘dry’ recycling is acceptable. If you produce more than 5kg of food waste per week, this must also be presented for separate collection. 
  • Store the waste carefully while you hold it to avoid contamination 
  • Ensure your waste is collected by someone authorised to receive it, such as a registered waste carrier or waste manager with the relevant authorisationThe Chartered Institute of Wastes Management have a directory on their website 
  • Ensure that the collection is recorded with an accurate Waste Transfer Note (see below) to provide for safe handling, transport, treatment, recovery, or disposal by subsequent holders.  

Different local government areas have different regulations about exactly what can and cannot be recycled depending on the facilities that are available locally.  Products that display the ‘recycling’ logo are theoretically recyclable but may not be recyclable in your area. This may affect the products you choose to work with. For example, facilities or collections for compostable cups are only available in certain parts of the countrythey must be collected separately from other waste and if they are disposed of alongside other waste these may simply be sent to landfill like a traditional plastic cupCheck council websites for information specific to your area but check with waste carriers or managers you work with for more specific information. You may also wish to ask your waste contractor to provide you with information on the final destination of the materials you separate for recycling.  

Some practical tips for closed loop recycling: 

  • Separate all recyclables from the start rather than sorting them later 
  • Put up clear signage to show what is appropriate for each bin. Consider having a bin for ‘unknown’ recyclables to prevent contamination. You can use the Recycle for Scotland poster creator tool to create clear signage that matches your specific needs or get creative like Scottish Sculpture Workshop. 
  • Use clear bags to identify contamination easily. Some waste companies provide these. 
  • Talk to your suppliers and contracts to ensure that the waste hierarchy is maintained throughout the supply chain.  
  • Work with neighbours or other tenants in your building to negotiate waste storage and potential collaboration as clients of waste contractors to get a better deal 
  • Offer staff training to make sure it is clear what can and cannot be recycled.  
  • Operate an ‘If in doubt, leave it out’ policy to avoid contamination  
  • Make use of specialist recycling options for particular products, such as the not-for-profit Move On Wood Recycling for wood, or Plunc for tech. 
  • Zero Waste Scotland offer a series of articles on what to do with certain tricky items while companies like TerraCycle specialise in recycling items that may not be recyclable elsewhere.  
Raising Awareness of Food Sustainability: the Scottish Sculpture Workshop 5

An example of Scottish Sculpture Workshop’s creative waste reduction signage.

Waste Transfer Notes

Waste Transfer Notes (WTNs) are documents that detail the transfer of waste from one person to another. WTNs ensure that there is a clear trail from when waste is produced until it is dealt with. You should keep copies of all your WTNs for at least two yearsA Waste Transfer Note must contain: 

  • A description of the waste 
  • Any processes the waste has been through 
  • How the waste is contained or packaged 
  • The quantity of the waste 
  • The place, date, and time of transfer 
  • The name and address of both parties 
  • Details of the permit, license or exemption of the person receiving the waste 
  • The appropriate European Waste Catalogue (EWC) code for your waste 
  • The Standard Industry Code (SIC) of your business 

It is also possible to use a season ticket system for waste of the same description which is transferred to the same collector for a period up to 12 monthswhich can save you time. There is no standard WTN and many waste carriers produce their own versions, but NetRegs provide a template that can be downloaded and edited. Provided all the required information is contained on it and both parties have signed it, an invoice can also be used as a WTN.  


Case Study: Edinburgh International Festival

The Edinburgh International Festival office, based in The Hub, realised they were paying for an unnecessary number of weekly pick-ups which were only appropriate for the busiest time of the year in August. They lowered their number of pick-ups by a third throughout the rest of the year – making significant financial savings of £2,400 per annum. They also undertook simple actions to reduce their waste outputs including removing desk bins. introducing food recycling, and monitoring waste outputs.


Recover Value

This is a remaining means of diverting waste from landfill if it cannot be recycled or potentially has not been sorted. This often involves incineration for energy generation.   

Recovering value might also take the form of ‘down-cycling’ by recycling material into a lower quality product. This is currently the case for many plastics, which tend to become degraded in the process of recycling preventing them from being continuously recycled in a closed loop. This can still be used to produce useful products however, such as insulation or fabrics.  

Some opportunities to recover value from materials might occur in your own workplace, such as:


Case Study: Assembly

Assembly took responsibility for food vans operating in their temporary venues, meaning they could ensure food waste recycling was in place. They recycled used cooking oil through Olecco who recycled the oil to biodiesel and paid Assembly £10 for 100 litres.



Landfill is the dominant end location of non-recyclable materials in the UK. As population and waste production grows, landfill sites are becoming less available and their negative environmental impact is becoming more visible. Rotting waste produces methane, a greenhouse gas that is both potentially explosive, requiring venting pipes to prevent build up and fire, and a major contributor to climate change, being at least 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.  

The waste material can also act as a catch for rainwater, resulting in water course pollution and the release of metal, biological, and chemical compounds and microplastics into the land, rivers and seas. Landfills exist over an extremely long timeframe. Much of the material in landfill is robust enough to have been recycled (Up to 60% of material sent to landfill could be recycled) and can take hundreds of years to degrade.  


Further help and resources


Advice for a More Sustainable Fringe 1

This guidance is part of Creative Carbon Scotland’s resources for our Green Arts community: a group of more than 300 individuals and cultural organisations in Scotland committed to reducing their environmental impact. Find out more and join for free on our Green Arts Initiative page.


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