UKCA View – Sustainability… it’s the last (single-use plastic) straw

Phil Clapp, chief executive of the UK Cinema Association, reports on progress behind the development of a sustainability strategy for members — and the important work being undertaken to help transform our industry’s more wasteful ways.


The past year or so has seen attention given to a host of environmental issues, with cinemas being brought into the eco-firing line. In the UK at least, that focus has in part been due to the Government announcing legislation to tackle relevant issues, but it has also arisen from the public whose awareness has been heightened, not least by online campaigns singling out cinemas. The most notable was launched on the 38 degrees platform: ‘Make plastic straws obsolete in cinemas’ received over 200,000 signatures. All this prompted the UKCA earlier in the year to ask members about their current and ongoing efforts to improve sustainability in their businesses, in turn highlighting areas where more work could be done.

The findings were generally positive, with members of all sizes already pursuing eco-friendly solutions. However, it was also clear that such activity was fragmented. As a result, the UKCA felt it necessary to take an active role in encouraging cinema operators to adopt ‘green’ best practices.

We have worked to gather information from a range of member companies large and small, as well as others in our sector, in particular major suppliers. This has helped us develop a working sustainability strategy focused on the three most challenging areasy, specifically:  reduction of single-use plastics; waste management and recycling; and  efficient energy use.

A strategy that moves with the times

This strategy will inevitably evolve in response to external pressures, many of which are likely to be outside of our industry’s control. As such, we will monitor the strategy to confirm it remains relevant, able to react to changing market demands and is an affective resource for members.

To that end, the UKCA is setting up a ‘Sustainability Working Group’ to oversee the development and delivery of this initiative. It will consist of cinema operators whose business models and priorities vary, meaning a range of opinions are represented within the group, in turn helping to shape our approach to this important subject.

Updates from across the wider cinema sector will support this group’s awareness of the options available to operators. The UKCA will continue to engage with supplier companies regularly, many of whom already promote more sustainable choices to cinemas. Whether it be technology providers and integrators highlighting economic and ecological benefits of a certain model of projector or key food and drink partners looking to reduce or remove single-use plastic options from their product ranges, replacing them with more sustainable alternatives (eg paper straws, compostable coffee cups etc), all our industry partners have a role to play.

The initial focus will be on the move away from single-use plastics, seen by many as the bellwether of good practice. Thankfully, there is already positive work underway, though early feedback and discussions with exhibitors suggests that waste management and recycling some alternative products poses a complicated challenge, with local and sometimes regional infrastructure not matching the potential volumes required by cinemas and other waste generators.

What’s stopping us doing more?

Difficulties in this area feed our second medium-term strand on waste management and recycling. The UKCA is planning to conduct a baseline audit of current activity and provision, not least to identify barriers preventing cinemas doing more. The final strand our strategy will focus on is improving energy efficiency. It’s an area the UKCA has looked at in the past and continues to monitor, but additional resources and expertise might be beneficial — this is partly in response to recent activity in the industry which offers the possibility of collaboration and collective energy buying, the most notable example being the Good/Creative energy project, supported by BAFTA and Film London. 

Sustainability and the impacts of current activity are front and centre for the UKCA, and something which will be reflected in our future work, but exhibition requires the support and ingenuity of all our industry partners to ensure the big screen experience continues to respond to changing audience demands as well as the external environmental pressures to remain the most accessible and enjoyed leisure/cultural activity in the UK.