Photo: Nathan Whittaker

Creating a world class arts festival on the scale of MIF requires innovative thinking when it comes to our environmental impacts. Our dedicated Environmental Sustainability Manager, Feimatta Conteh, is leading efforts to reduce our negative effects, and maximise our positive ones – from recycling 95% of our sets and props, to training our volunteers on sustainability standards, and so much more.

“We’ve looked at areas where our efforts can have greatest impact and MIF21 is set to be our most sustainable festival so far,” says Feimatta, “We’re also trying things out that we could take forward to our new home in The Factory – where we will invent tomorrow together”.

Here we round up five things you’ll see in place at MIF21 that are actively reducing waste, lowering our carbon footprint and contributing to the circular economy.

1. We’re making a monumental artwork from recycled and recyclable materials

Marta Minujín’s sculpture of Big Ben Lying Down with Political Books is designed to be covered in 20,000 real books which the audience will be invited to take home on the final weekend of the festival. We knew the books had to be visible, but also protected from the elements, without creating any unnecessary waste or using harmful materials.

After an in-depth research process, we decided to work with plastic with 30% recycled content for both the books bags and structural wrap of Big Ben. The wrap had the stretch we needed and the recycled polymer Sustane was right in terms of its strength for the book bags. Most importantly though, it’s part of a closed loop of production, meaning the materials are returned to manufacturers Berry bpi to be recycled after use.

2. Food plates and cutlery will be anaerobically digested – and won’t go to landfill

Photo: The Mancorialist

When it comes to sustainability, it’s not simply enough to choose recyclable materials; acting on that potential is crucial too. All the plates, bowls and glasses you’ll see at Festival Square will be made from plant-based, plastic-free material, which will be collected and composted by our waste management contractors,B&M.

After you’ve enjoyed a coffee or snack from one of our traders, your plates and cutlery will be heat treated before entering an anaerobic digestion process, along with food waste too. They will decompose in an oxygen-free chamber, eventually being used as biogas for heating or nutrient-rich biofertiliser in agriculture. This means that none of the material will end up in landfill or enter the ‘waste-to-energy’ process of incineration.

We’ve also created Sustainability Guidelines for all our food and drink traders in Festival Square, and we’ll be carefully monitoring our impact by producing a baseline carbon footprint for the Square.

3. Our posters and signage have excellent recycling credentials

Creating temporary signage to help navigate Festival Square and the venues beyond is an essential part of building MIF. In order to make this more sustainable, we’re working with materials with a recycled content, mostly Corex. Unlike PVC, which is created with polluting and harmful chlorine, or Foamex which is impossible to recycle due to it’s multiple layers of different materials, Corex is a much cleaner, more recyclable choice, meaning MIF21’s sustainability practices will keep powering the circular economy after the festival.

4. We’re signposting cycle parking outside our venues

How our audiences navigate the city and the Festival is something we’ve been considering when it comes to environmental impacts. With more MIF commissions in public spaces that ever before, we’re signposting cycle parking for our volunteers, staff, audiences and artists on the Venue Access Information page of our website.

Most of our venues have cycle parking on site, and all of them have cycle parking within 200m. So if you’re exploring the festival from the Manchester Jewish Museum in the north of the city centre – via Festival Square – to The Whitworth in the south, there are plenty of places to safely park your bike.

5. Our COVID face masks are 100% compostable

Making sure MIF21 is a COVID-safe festival has environmental impacts too. The festival will be completely compliant with Stage 3 lockdown restrictions, meaning social distancing and face masks are essential. All our cellulose-based face masks, supplied by Yorkshire-based Henosis Masks, are 100% compostable. We know it’s not enough to simply source the right products, so we’re also providing training and and partnering with sustainable contractors to ensure that these items end up as compost, rather than in the waste bin.

While these steps are positive, it doesn’t end here. We’re excited about setting an example in sustainability, and MIF’s vision is long-term. We will continue to research and act on new sustainable practices across the organisation. It’s all part of our 5-year environmental action plan, in line with Manchester’s target of becoming zero-carbon by 2038.

For more information on MIF’s approach to sustainability, you can read our Environmental Sustainability page and Environmental Sustainability Policy, and you can get in touch via

Lucy Holt is a writer and poet from Manchester.

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