The best features in recycling
FROM THE ARCHIVE: Calling the curtain on waste
The Dominion Theatre is one of London’s largest West End theatres. Opened in 1929, it’s seen stage musicals, operas and concerts, with Judy Garland, Maurice Chevalier, Sophie Tucker and Shirley Maclaine just some of the stars to have trodden its boards. Immersed in a world of make believe, magic and make up, the theatre was not what you’d call environmentally aware. But in 2002, a Queen-inspired musical set up camp in the theatre and a company manager with a green bent requested a way to recycle paper. In late 2003 a scheme was put in place. It was an instant hit.
The theatre, operated by Live Nation, employs 98 permanent staff, and a further 109 (comprising of actors, musicians, technical staff, wardrobe and administrators) contribute to the We Will Rock You musical that is still playing at the theatre four years on. The task of introducing paper recycling was left to the theatre’s assistant manager, Emma Sparks. Slightly daunted by the prospect of becoming the theatre’s environmental champion and with no budget available, Emma turned to the Internet: “I didn’t have a clue where to start, not knowing anything about recycling. I had a New York state of mind where I’d buy an umbrella if it was raining and throw it in the bin when the rain stopped. It has certainly been a steep learning curve.”
In March 2004, the theatre signed up to level A1 of the Mayor of London’s Green Procurement Code. Then, at a Green Business Fair in Camden, Emma met people from The Laundry. They now provide the theatre with an inexpensive method of recycling paper that is both simple and efficient.
Together with London Remade the theatre went on to produce an environmental policy. In May 2005, it enlisted the services of recycling group Loop to broaden the range of products diverted from the general refuse collection. “We set up a room dedicated to recycling, containing three bins for glass, two for plastic and aluminium and a trolley for cardboard,” says Emma. “To make it as easy as possible for the staff, we devised a colour-coded scheme, with posters detailing exactly what goes in which bin.”
Initially there were a few teething problems separating the materials, but increased monitoring resolved them. “I found myself fastidiously fishing out bits of lemon, straws, bottle tops and plastic wrapping from the glass bins,” remembers Emma. “If you had told me two years ago that I would be this concerned about recycling, I’d have laughed.”
Indeed, Emma’s level of commitment to source separation has got to such a point that staff on the bars – where the majority of the recyclable waste is produced – tease her by chucking lemons into the recycling bin in front of her. They are, however, quick to retrieve them.
Encouraged by the efforts of the bar staff, the Dominion’s sparks wanted to get involved with greening up the theatre. As light bulbs have stopped working, the electricians have replaced them with low energy ones and a number of lighting circuits that were previously on 24 hours a day are now on a timer. Next, a lamp recycler was contacted and a hassle-free lamp recycling scheme was set up. One six-foot container provided by Lampcare can hold up to 200 linear fluorescents along with a number of other lamps such as sodium and tungsten.
Conserving resources is on the agenda in other ways too. ‘Hogs’ now occupy each of the theatre’s 80 toilets, saving one litre of water per flush and push taps have been installed. The Carbon Trust recently paid the theatre a visit and will report its findings in due course on how the theatre can improve resource use further. In the meantime, following the trust’s advice, Emma has decided to put timers on the water coolers with immediate effect, to ensure that they are switched off overnight.
The Dominion staff have also been working with the group’s purchasing manager. “We now have eco-friendly stationary products and we’ve reduced paper use by adding ‘please do not print unless absolutely necessary’ to email signatures, plus we print/photocopy double sided where possible,” enthuses Emma. Even the head offices of Live Nation are playing their part by recycling paper, cardboard, cartridges, redundant IT equipment and furniture.
Despite a heavy work load, the staff at the Dominion are trying to encourage others to follow their lead. “We are trying to get other theatres to recycle. It’s difficult though because no theatre has a dedicated environmental person and making time for it is tricky. Also there is the worry that this is going to cost them more, but it’s not true,” says Emma.
The theatre now seems unstoppable in its commitment to the cause: having begun mobile phone collections in conjunction with the Car Phone Warehouse and run a Suit to Loot extravaganza, collecting unwanted clothes from wardrobe and staff, they decided to take part in Environment Week. This January saw daily presentations and demonstrations from organisations, including London Recycling and London Remade. “The Dominion electrics department did a hands on demonstration with normal light bulbs verses low energy light bulbs. It went down a storm. Once people actually saw with their own eyes that there was no difference in the amount of light coming from the low energy bulb, they were much more open to using them.”
The theatre has come a long way and it is currently on the highest level (B2) of the Mayor of London’s Green Procurement Code, alongside companies such as Barclays Bank, Office Depot, Safeway and Shell. Figures from May to December 2005 show that the theatre managed to recycled 3,660kgs of paper, 20,219kgs of glass, 106kgs of plastic, 2kgs of aluminium, 6,290kgs of cardboard and nearly 200 lamps. That’s 30.2 tonnes that this one theatre managed to divert through its recycling efforts alone. But there’s no resting on laurels here.
One waste stream that has been added to the list over the past year is batteries. “The theatre goes through a lot of batteries every week as they are used to power the microphones. The We Will Rock You sound department alone disposes of approximately 544 AA batteries per week. We did think about using rechargeable batteries, but they simply are not reliable enough,” says Emma. With the help of Loop and at a charge of £5 per week, the batteries are now being taken away by the recycling group and disposed of properly.
In addition to this, a few months ago, 40 of the theatre’s windows had to be replaced. Being a 77-year-old building, they could not be disposed of or replaced easily with the theatre’s new green halo. There was an answer, however: “The new windows use recycled steel for the frames and the windows are made from recycled glass. Meanwhile, the old brass and steel window decorations are being reused.”
For all her protests, Emma has clearly gained a wealth of knowledge about diverting waste and her enthusiasm is boundless: “I guess I’m lucky in a way because I didn’t come from an environmental background, so I am coming at it from a different angle. If someone in the theatre comes up to me and says ‘I want to recycle this or that’ rather than saying no, that can’t be done, I will investigate whether there is a way to dispose of it in a more environmentally sound way.” The newly-green assistant manager proudly adds that, after months of searching, she’s manged to find recycled napkins, in Pret à Manger: “I immediately got on the phone to London Remade for advice on how to source a supplier of these napkins.”
Emma’s current mission is to find a way to recycle or reuse bottle tops from small mixers such as tonic water and ginger ale. “I haven’t managed to find anyone willing to collect [these] yet, but at least 200 of these are thrown away on a weekly basis. I’m hoping to find someone who can make goods from them, or perhaps send them back to the supplier. But I am sure I will find someone who has some use for them.” No doubt she will.
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