What are the 5 R’s of the Waste Hierarchy?

The 5 R’s are a guide for managing and reducing waste. They follow a fixed hierarchy: Refuse, Reuse, Reduce, Repurpose, Recycle.


The most important piece of information to take away from this advice is that recycling should be a last option. It is not the convenient waste solution we all hoped for, as summarised in this article.


There are several steps that we advise members to follow to avoid unnecessary waste going to landfill, which includes wrongly recycled materials.


GCC’s Packaging and Materials Research Group have put together the below advice for following the hierarchy of the 5 R’s. For more guidance on sustainable packaging and material use, please visit our Packaging & Materials resource.




  • Tell suppliers not to use unnecessary packing materials. Inform them of GCC’s Banned Materials List and ask them to use alternatives.

  • Refuse single use plastics. If a synthetic material must be used, make sure it can be reused multiple times.

  • Innovate packing methods so that minimal materials are required. Try fixing objects mechanically with bespoke crating, using cotton or nylon straps to secure objects without the need for foam materials.

  • Substitute synthetic packing materials for natural biodegradable products wherever possible.



  • Rethink the amount of packing materials required for safe transport.

  • Set a target to half the amount of packaging ordered over the next year.

  • Ask framers and other suppliers to minimise their packaging, especially for short journeys.

  • Use custom or appropriately sized boxes to avoid filling empty space with excessive materials.



  • Employ proper packing techniques to ensure the reuse of the materials. Take pride in using materials efficiently and sustainably.

  • Maintain cleanliness to prolong the life of the synthetic packaging materials: Wipe down working surfaces before packing artworks and keep packaging materials in containers and away from dust and dirt. Regularly clean storage areas.

  • Refer to the Advised Tape & Materials Combinations Chart in order to extend the life of wrapping materials. 

  • Tyvek is a highly versatile and low impact material. With appropriate care it can be reused many times: 

  • Be aware of which tapes are compatible with what kind of materials to minimise damage and allow maximum reuse.

  • Tyvek is two-sided. Knowing which side is which will allow correct use.

  • Tyvek can be washed with a damp cloth.

  • Label packing materials with instructions for reuse.

  • Circulate materials for reuse. Prioritise reusable fine art packing materials such as crates and pouches.

  • Traditional materials such as blankets, cotton straps and glassine are reusable and low impact.



  • Start a ‘scraps bin’ for material off cuts.

  • Store received materials and adapt for future use.

  • Repurpose art packaging materials for regular packaging needs.

  • Repurpose cardboard into softpacks for framed artworks.

  • Turn Tyvek and foam scraps into support cushions for crate padding.

  • Share materials that are no longer suitable for art packing with studios, local schools or community centres.



  • Recycling isn’t as commonplace as one may think. Most municipal recycling facilities are not equipped to sort the different polymer groups and often incinerate plastics instead of recycling them. 

  • Plastic bags, films, and wraps are not kerbside recyclable because they jam the machinery at recycling facilities. Synthetic foams and Tyvek are also not typically kerbside recyclable. However, various recycling programs are available for these materials, depending on location. 

  • Refer to the GCC Waste & Recycling resource or your  for more information on recycling programmes. 

September 22, 2021