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How we’re recycling for 
National Recycling Week

Moving towards minimal waste in the performing arts

Emma Bombonato

Sustainability is in the Opera House’s DNA. Architect Jørn Utzon built sustainable design elements into the building itself, with pioneering seawater chillers and self-cleaning ceramic tiles. This legacy lives on today in the Opera House’s Environmental Sustainability Plan which honours the Opera House’s commitment to reduce its impact on the environment by embedding sustainability in everything it does, and inspiring awareness in the community.

For National Recycling Week this week, Environmental Sustainability Manager Emma Bombonato describes how waste is managed at a world-leading performing arts centre and tourist destination.

“Sustainability is in the Opera House’s DNA.”

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How we’re recycling

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With showbiz comes waste
The Opera House is open 363 days of the year. In that time we host 2000 events and performances every year, process 2.5 million food and beverage orders across our six on-site bars and restaurants, and generate 5000 cubic metres of waste.

As a symbol of modern Australia, it’s important we demonstrate that even organisations as large, diverse and busy as ours can reduce, reuse and recycle waste.

We’ve reduced our operational waste by 50%
In 2016 we boosted our recycling rate with a new waste management program. In addition to normal ‘kerbside recyclables’ such as plastic containers, bottles, paper and cardboard, we introduced new recycling streams to better dispose of items such as fluoro lighting, organic food waste, steel and construction waste. Last year we successfully increased our operational waste recycling rates by 50%, including transferring food waste to an organics facility to be turned into energy.

We’ve turned waste to wonder
Reusing materials is a big part of what we do. We store and repurpose building materials that are unique to the Opera House and look for opportunities to give items some would consider waste a new life through our creative play and Creative Learning program. We also take every opportunity to return operational waste items like shipping pallets for reuse.

During big festivals such as Vivid LIVE we encourage reuse by providing our artists, their crew and staff with reusable items such as metal water bottles. In June 2017 Goodgod’s Soft Future Piano Bar turned the purple carpets into a zero-waste '60s piano lounge with seating made from used truck tyres. This year our Opera House Shop swapped plastic for recyclable paper bags, saving around 60,000 plastic bags each year.

4-star Green Star - Performance infographic

We’ve got a 4-star Green Star - Performance rating
It’s incredibly rare for a heritage building to achieve green certification. Thanks to Utzon, sustainable thinking is embedded in the building itself, and we’ve built on this strong foundation in our Environmental Sustainability Plans. Replacing lights in the Concert Hall with LEDs and our industry-leading Reconciliation Action Plan are just two of many activities that’ve helped us get this 4-star rating.

And the 5-star Green Star - Performance rating is in our sights
We’re working on a number of new and exciting projects to help us achieve a 5-star Green Star - Performance rating. We’ve installed a data capture system that monitors our waste daily and identifies contamination and we’re upgrading our seawater cooling plant. These projects will help us achieve our 20% energy reduction target by 2023.

Early next year, the Opera House will install its first ever artificial reef. It’s part of a collaborative research project with the University of Technology and University of Sydney to enhance the marine environment around Bennelong Point.

What’s next?
Our three big targets are to become Carbon Neutral, achieve a 5-star Green Star - Performance rating and recycle over 85% of our waste by 2023.

What can I do at home?
Avoid waste in the first place: remember to take your reusable bag, drink bottle and reusable mug everywhere you go – like our new Opera House keep cups.

Sort it out: don’t mix soft (scrunchable) plastic with hard plastic like food containers and water bottles in your mixed recycling bin. Soft plastic contaminates your bin and maybe rejected by your local council facility. This undoes all your hard work. Some supermarkets like Coles have soft plastic recycling bins.

Buy recycled: close the loop by looking for recycled content products like toilet paper and home office paper.

Check out the National Recycling Week website for more tips and info.

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