By: Kate Wallace, Operations Manager, Theatre SKAM with the help of Sadie Fox of The Sustainable Fox and Emma Leck, Communications Coordinator, SKAM.
As a personal New Year’s resolution in January 2019, I vowed to strive for less plastic in my home.
This led to meeting some key players/inspirational leaders, who would eventually lead me on a
journey that allowed Theatre SKAM of Victoria BC to produce a 2-day performance festival
(SKAMpede, July 13-14 2019) which saw near 1,000 patrons in the Hub (our FOH) and produced
less than a handful of garbage. Truth!
We are overjoyed! We posted this accomplishment on social media and received kudos from
many friends and colleagues. So now we want to share how we did it and how you can zero waste
the Front of House at your theatre and your festival. It’s easier than you think. It requires a little
investment of your time to educate yourselves and some money. Keep in mind, the idea is to
reduce trash and single-use plastic. Both soft plastics (like treat bags) and hard plastics (like water
bottles) aren’t getting recycled anymore as our country struggles to put systems in place to deal
with these non-biodegradable items. Single-use plastics will slowly become obsolete, so now’s
your chance to become a zero waste leader.
FRONT OF HOUSE:
Instead of paper programmes, we use a projector pre-show, in the lobby, to honour the artists and
sponsors of a show. We call it the “Mobile Programme,” as we don’t have our own venue but we
can bring the projector and USB to any venue and have the same effect.
Beverages – Non-alcoholic, cold
● We stopped selling plastic bottles of water.
● We invested in durable plastic glassware and provided our audience with a jug of free
water. You can invest in mason jars which conveniently come in standardized sizes, one of
which is ideal for wine as well!
● We made our own lemonade in large jugs and used those same plastic glasses for selling
drinks. Recipe: Lemon concentrate, sugar and sparkling mineral water.
Beverages – Non-alcoholic, hot (Coffee/tea/hot chocolate)
● Give your audience mugs. You’ve got plenty around! You can use your theatre company’s
staff mugs, or you can go to the thrift shop and buy more, or you can order online or go to
the Bay… this is easy! Get spoons for stirring. Buy milk/cream from somewhere that
either serves it on tap ( Zero Waste Emporium in Victoria does this) or buy from Avalon .
The milk comes in glass jars and you bring your empties back and get new. There is a $1
charge initially per bottle, but you get your money back every time you return a bottle.
● You can also buy compostable coffee cups. Make sure they do compost… read the label.
And no plastic lids! But mugs are more eco-friendly and easier to carry into the theatre.
They have handles!
● Beer: Draught beer is one option. Then you can use your glasses or new plastic glassware.
Bottled is second best because it is glass, and potentially reusable without needing to be
recycled. Finally, cans are fine as well because they are easily recyclable. Don’t forget to
recycle those caps!
● Wine: Using actual stemware is lovely if you can afford it! But if you can’t, you can invest in
plastic glassware (as above… maybe the 5 oz model) or go to the thrift shop for cheap
glassware. You just want to be sure you are not over or under pouring, so having the same
glassware and size for all wine is probably best for the liquor licence officer to stay pleased
with your ounces poured.
● We all like a gin and tonic, eh? Again, if you can purchase glassware, go for it. Or those
reusable plastic glassware. With the mixers, pop cans are recyclable. Oversized plastic pop
bottles are not zero-waste. They are wasteful because you will always have leftovers and
then they lose their fizz. They are refundable but again, plastic, so currently not being
We purchased all our concession treats from the local Bulk Barn and brought our own plastic bags
(ziplocks or bread or veggie bags from the grocery store) to load our treats.
We put treats in a different size of those plastic glasses, pre-measured and priced accordingly
(gummies, Bits & Bites….whatever your audience likes). No plastic bags. Or use stoneware coffee
mugs… how eclectic that the audience gets to choose their own mug for treats. It’s up to you of
course. You can also use purchased plastic cups. Whatever you choose, you have to make sure
they get washed and reused the next day.
Have the concession worker tell all patrons to return their food and drink cups to the concession
so it can stay zero-waste, and ask the Front of House Manager to mention it in their speech at the
top of the show. From our experience, patrons will return the cups to return food and drink cups to
concession for a zero-waste concession. Also don’t make compost/recycling too
accessible/visible. This will help your audience to remind them not to throw out and not to recycle
the cups but to return to concession for re-use.
Investment of time:
Go to bulk food (treats) supplier with your own bags.
Wash food and drink cups at the end of the night.
Investment of money:
Invest in the sturdy plastic cups or glassware.
Invest in compostable coffee cups, no lids!
Pay someone to wash dishes!
Zero Waste Festival is Possible.
Theatre SKAM had the opportunity to be in a highly visible spot on the Victoria Harbour for the
SKAMpede Festival in 2019. Our Festival Hub, which is where audiences congregated to enjoy
multiple tours of performances in and around downtown, was also where we had free live music,
community tents and a concession. With this being a free festival, we saw over 700 patrons
register for tours, and about 300 passersby who came to Hub to enjoy a beer garden with food
and live music. Our concession was the busiest it’s ever been at this new and inviting location on
We spoke with our zero waste sponsor, the Zero Waste Emporium, and they donated cloth
napkins, compostable paper bags for food treats. They also supplied great advice!
We hired a Zero Waste Ambassador onsite: Sadie Fox of the new, just launched company, The
Sustainable Fox. She came to 2 of our production meetings to understand the festival and how it
was running, then created a strategy to help us achieve our goals. Sadie was involved at the
volunteer orientation so volunteers and staff could explain to patrons how SKAMpede’s zero
waste goal was going to be fulfilled!
Grilled hot dogs and corn on the cob were served on post consumer paper plates that were
compostable. They are cheap and we bought ours in bulk at the Wholesale Foods store.
We bought bulk condiments and used refillable, squeezable ketchup and mustard containers. We
left bulk relish in the big jars with spoons (relish does not come out of those tiny holes in the
squeeze bottles!). We brought a fry pan to fry onions on the BBQ and had glass bowls from the
office to self serve, with spoons.
Our treats were popcorn and Crispitoss (delish fried wonton-style squares covered in cinnamon
and sugar). Popcorn was donated by Cinenta in big bags which were then transferred to reusable
bins. Crispitos came in a bulk bin which we borrowed from Zero Waste Emporium, along with
borrowed tongs for serving. Both treats were in paper, compostable bags. Easy peasy.
Drinks: Beer on tap. We invested in stackable hard plastic cups that we can reuse for years. We
had 9oz cups and 8oz of draught. Wine was from bottles and our wine supplier also gave us
glassware to be returned and washed. We received coffee in urns from our local coffee company,
Caffe Fantastico, along with proper stoneware mugs. We got our milk in Avalon bottles, and our
sugar in a paper box. Ice cold pops were sold in the cans they came in. Cans are very recyclable
and refundable, so we consider that zero waste.
Recycling and Garbage:
We had two recycling stations on site, and the one and only garbage can was located in the tent
with our Sustainability Ambassador, The Sustainable Fox. People would bring their ‘garbage’ to
her and then she would explain how, what, and where to recycle it. If a patron didn’t spend time
with her to learn, she would graciously just divert the compostables/recyclables for them. The one
garbage solution is a brilliant strategy and money well spent.
After two days and about 1000 people coming through the Hub, we had less than a handful of
garbage. We only had 2 baby wipes that were used for a craft cleanup, and one band-aid!
Investment of time:
– educating staff and volunteers
– washing beer cups between days of the festival
– laundering the cloth napkins and cloth rags if needed
Investment of money:
– paying a sustainable ambassador
– plastic and very reusable cups for beer
– glassware rental if that is your preference.
– Hiring a company for recycling stations…who also do mid festival pick-ups! We had no
Other things we did:
Every year we hand out Festival buttons as a way to check patrons in for their tour. This is a free
festival, so this was our tracking device. When we handed out buttons we asked patrons to return
them when they were done for the day so we could reuse them next year. We had 31% returned!
SKAM’s next steps: Things we are hoping to do next year and into the future:
– Ice in plastic bags.
– Less recycling: use jugs of pre-made lemonade/ice tea instead of canned. Teach
concession volunteers about latex gloves and when to change them. Having concession
volunteers on one duty will lessen the latex gloves impact. Find more compostable
– We printed 500 maps to hand out to the audience. We can print 400 less next year as
people have phones with cameras and can take a picture of their ‘programme’
– Zero waste our office: Get a compost. Ask the neighbour if they want our greens. Buy
Avalon milk or something similar.
– Find a way to either not hand out buttons or find stickers that are recyclable (currently not
so, as they have glue backing).
Research: These are BC websites but we are sure there must be similar in different provinces!