• Overview 

    • The only real solution to waste is to change buying habits and move towards a circular economy. 
    • Recycling is the idea that a given material can be processed and turned into another form of itself. Unfortunately, the reality of recycling doesn't always live up to this noble goal. 
    • To this day, many materials are not easily recyclable. A 2017 study found that, of the 8.3bn tonnes of virgin plastic produced worldwide, only 9% has been recycled.
    • Because the carbon footprint of materials is mostly found in their manufacture rather than their disposal, carbon calculators are good at showing the benefts of buying recycled materials, but generally won't tell you much about the benefits of recycling your waste at the end of its life.




    Most municipal recycling facilities are not equipped to sort through different polymer groups, and often incinerate plastics instead of recycling them. Plastic bags, films, and wraps pose major problems for kerbside recycling because they can 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. For location specific advice on waste and recycling, please visit our regional pages.


    We must minimise waste, rather than rely on recycling. The GCC Waste and Recycling Research Group has worked in tandem with the Packaging and Materials Research Group to provide actionable recommendations based on the principles of the 5 Rs of the waste hierarchy - refuse, reuse, reduce, repurpose and recycle. 


    The research below provides practical steps members can take in the short and long term. This includes immediate actions, such as speaking with your waste management company, understanding the services offered by shippers and conducting a waste audit, as well as steps that can be taken to manage art handling materials through prevention, reuse, repurposing and recycling and setting waste reduction goals. GCC has also been looking beyond our current systems to explore what a circular economy could look like in the art sector.




    10 Steps to Better Waste Management

    1. Speak to your waste management company. We recommend you ask the below questions: 

      • Q1. What waste and recycling collection streams are on offer?

      • Q2. Where is the initial disposal facility(find out if the waste is being shipped out of the county. Unless there is a good reason for this, exporting waste should raise a red flag.)

      • Q3. Where is the end disposal facility(Similarly to Q2, this should be within the country, and as local as possible.)

      • Q4. What happens to the waste? (They should be able to tell you what is anaerobically digested, what is incinerated, what is the second life of the waste that is recycled and how are these items used?) 

    2. Identify the waste streams through your waste management company and organise your waste / recycling collection points according to the materials that are frequently used in your organisation. 


    3. Have your waste management company come to your premises to see how your waste and recycling is organised. They will be able to provide you and your colleagues with tips on how to make reductions. 


    4. Conduct a waste audit. This involves reviewing the waste created, recording and analysing the findings. By doing this, you can understand the waste you produce, identify areas for improvement, set goals for reduction and track results. Please see Ki Culture’s Waste and Materials Ki Book (p. 55) for a How To Guide. Galleries Commit have produced a useful Weekly Waste Tracker template to help with this. GCC will soon be publishing examples of waste audits from members.


    5. Make a list of all the art handling materials that are in current use in your galleries and their waste streams. GCC has produced a list of materials in common use for art handling and packing, and their waste streams. Please note, this is a work in progress, and the waste stream research is currently London-specific. GCC’s Region-Specific Groups are working on adding region-specific findings to this resource.


    GCC Material Waste Streams PDF:



    6. Speak with your regular shippers about the ways they can recycle the art handling and packing materials you use. See the GCC London members page for details of London-based shipping services


    7. Set waste reduction goals that enable you to:

      • Increase recycling rates. 

      • Set a re-use target. 

      • Introduce more recycling for a variety of waste streams. 

      • Use circular networks to distribute exhibition furniture (see point 8).

      • If your waste management company doesn’t already provide it, work towards a zero waste to landfill target and know what type of incineration process is used.


    8. Move towards a circular economy. The current economic system is based on constant resource extraction, production and disposal and is extremely wasteful. In order to operate sustainably, organisations must work within the planet’s resource limitations and not exceed it. This requires significant systemic changes. 


    9. Communicate changes with your colleagues. Bring them on the journey with you. Use clear and consistent signage to encourage best practice. Hold meetings to introduce new waste management systems. Share these resources with your team.


    10. Share your findings and ideas. These steps are not exhaustive. If you would like to contribute further research or tips on waste management: info@galleryclimatecoalition.  




    Plastic Waste Streams 

    When managing plastic waste, it is important to be aware of the different types of plastic and their recyclability. To help identify plastic types, materials are often stamped with a number between one and seven. Each type has different properties and needs to be managed in different ways, depending on the recycling facilities available locally. The below advice is largely international, but it is worth speaking with your waste management company about the types of plastic they are able to recycle.  

    Widely recycled

    • 1: PET or PETE (Polyethylene terephthalate)
      • Example: Polyester film/Mylar

    Sometimes recycled in specialist facilities 

    • 2: HDPE (High density polyethylene)
      • Example: Tyvek, cleaning product containers  
    • 4: LDPE (Low density polyethylene)
      • Example: Plastic bags, bubble wrap, tape
    • 5: PP (Polypropylene)
      • Example: Containers, bottle lids, tape

    Rarely recycled 

    • 6: PS (Polystyrene)
      • Example: Disposable coffee cups, styrofoam 

    7: Other

    • Any type of plastic that doesn’t fit into one of the first six categories falls into this category. These plastics are often made of multiple plastic types, so can’t easily be recycled. 
      • Example: Perspex

    Cannot be recycled

    • 3: PVC (Polyvinyl chloride)
      • Example: Bubble wrap




    Effective Actions

    • Research commercial recycling service providers in your area. Choose those who can recycle the widest range of materials. Be aware that not all recycling companies provide the same level of service. Contact them if you can’t easily find the answers you need, and request a visit to your premises for advice on waste management. See suggestions for Berlin and London here.
    • Conduct a waste audit to analyse your current waste management practices.
    • Set targets based on the 5 R’s of the waste hierarchy. Recycling should always be the last option.
    • Reuse materials to the point of failure before replacing. Materials such as the so-called ‘bags for life’ are only environmentally justifiable if they are reused multiple times before being properly recycled.
    • Check with your building's maintenance staff to make sure they are properly disposing of waste. Often, the contents of both recycling and waste bins get loaded into a single skip.
    • When purchasing new materials, it is best to check the recycling capabilities in your local area before buying.
    • Avoid single-use items, especially materials made of fossil-fuel derived artificial polymers such as bottled water, packaging foam, or disposable plastic packaging.
    • Vote with your wallet by boycotting services and companies that use single-use items in their operations, such as shipping companies or food delivery services.




    Further Reading

    Ki Culture: Waste and Materials Ki Book 


    Galleries Commit: Climate Action Plan


    Julie’s Bicycle: Waste Management in Buildings