Mayan Grace: Festivals can play a big part in the city’s circular economy

Mayan Grace, Head of Projects at Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce
Mayan Grace, Head of Projects at Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce
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Edinburgh’s festivals are among the biggest shows on earth, with ticket sales of around 4.5 million every year.

The festivals play a hugely ­positive role in the city’s cultural and ­economic life – and now they are also set to lead in helping to create a more ­sustainable future.

Festivals Edinburgh is working in partnership with Circular Edinburgh to pinpoint ways in which the ­festivals can look to turn waste streams into opportunities by embedding a ­circular economy approach in their operations.

Circular Edinburgh is a joint ­initiative delivered by Zero Waste Scotland and Edinburgh Chamber of ­Commerce. The chamber is ­delivering a range of local activities to help identify opportunities for local ­businesses, and direct them towards available support and funding. This work is supported by funding from the Scottish Government and the European Regional Development Fund.

A circular economy moves away from the existing linear economy which makes, uses and disposes – creating waste along the way. Instead, it looks to keep the flow of materials and products within the economy for as long as possible, extracting ­maximum value from them whilst in use. It’s where businesses, industry and consumers work together to make things last.

It offers opportunities to Scottish business to develop new products and services which promote repeated use, not single use – for example, leasing, repair, or takeback services, or designing new products from another industry’s ‘waste’ through effective collaboration.

Decade after decade, we’ve seen the International Festival – and its sibling the Festival Fringe – grow and grow. This year saw 2,800 artists from 60 nations take part. These performances were watched by festival-goers from more than 80 countries – which is truly amazing when you remember that there are only around 195 ­countries in the world.

There is no doubt that the festivals bring Edinburgh a huge economic benefit, with 4.5 million tickets sold being equivalent to the World Cup taking place in Edinburgh every year.

The most recent estimates put the economic impact of the festivals in Edinburgh at £280 million and they fuel spending of around £30 million in accommodation, and around the same in the city’s cafes and bars.

Shopping, entertainment and transport are also major sectors to benefit .

Clearly, Edinburgh’s many festivals, including the International Festival, the Fringe and the Book Festival, are hugely influential and play a vital role in the success of Edinburgh. But their success goes beyond merely economic impact.

Circular Edinburgh in partnership with Festivals Edinburgh recently delivered workshops which showcased the city’s key sectors and the opportunities for the circular economy, looking at exploring solutions to challenges in the waste streams typical of Edinburgh’s festivals and events.

Production, marketing and catering materials (used by festival organisers, partner venues and artistic companies) make temporary ­cultural events in urban centres ­possible. However, they also generate significant amounts of waste. Adopting a circular approach can provide the stimulus for creative innovation: turning waste to wealth. During the workshops, a number of solutions for Edinburgh’s festivals were explored.

These range from reusable cups and compostable and bioplastic food containers to using apps or QR codes instead of producing brochures. Another idea put forward was to use reusable bags made from ­costumes of other events and old textiles, instead of producing cotton bags.

Excellent ideas were identified ­and presented to the 11 Edinburgh festivals at an interactive workshop organised by Circular Edinburgh and Festivals Edinburgh, to encourage the festivals to assess these ­practical solutions. This could be the start of significant change change which could benefit our city for generations to come.

Circular Edinburgh is an initiative funded by Zero Waste Scotland, supported by funding from both the Scottish Government and the European Regional Development Fund through the £73million Resource Efficient Circular Economy Accelerator Programme.

Circular Edinburgh delivers a programme of knowledge sharing events, workshops and roundtable discussions to promote the circular economy to local ­businesses.

For more information please visit or contact Mayan Grace or Aileen Boyle on 0131 221 2999 (option 5) or email
Mayan Grace, head of projects at Edinburgh Chamber of ­Commerce.