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Lyn Gardner: As Edinburgh drowns in discarded flyers, companies should think about sustainability

Photo: Matt Deegan Photo: Matt Deegan
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Plenty of people think that all the Edinburgh Fringe does is generate rubbish. That may be unfair to the shows that receive a critical drubbing, but they are right about the impact of the festival on the environment. With an estimated 2.5 million people in the city for the festivals, the environment inevitably suffers.

Walking down Nicolson Street the other night, the bins were overflowing with flyers. At one point I watched somebody take a flyer and just yards down the road ditch it into a bin. I suspect that scenario is being repeated every second all over the city.

The flyer remains the main way for small companies to entice passing punters into their shows. They can’t afford the billboards that advertise the big shows all across the city. A great flyer can be a thing of beauty. The clever flyer for Claire Gaydon’s See-Through makes me want to see the show. It is doing its job and more. But most flyers do not and are quickly binned.

In its sustainability guide, the fringe offers guidelines for cutting down on waste by using only recycled paper and reducing the number of flyers that each company prints. But more waste could be avoided if, instead of simply thrusting a flyer into passing hands, they engaged the potential audience member in conversation and handed out a flyer only if real interest was expressed. It immediately avoids the situation of people taking a flyer out of politeness even if they have no intention of ever seeing the show and just get rid of it at the first opportunity.

In fact, maybe there is no need to hand out more than a few flyers every day at all. Unlike Gaydon’s, most flyers are not Instagram-able. Flyers are essentially an aide-memoire, giving the essential information of the time and venue. Most people have phones. Perhaps they could take a picture of the flyer rather than take the flyer itself?

Of course, flyers are a drop in the ocean when it comes to the environmental impact that the festivals have on the city and the wider environment. Thousands will have flown to get here, many will have driven. It’s hard to address how a company gets from Korea to Edinburgh without significant environmental impact. But everyone in Edinburgh in August can make a start with the small things.

This year, Poltergeist Theatre – whose delightful Lights Over Tesco Carpark is at Pleasance Dome every morning – have launched a #SustainableFringe campaign that asks companies to sign up to three challenges, which include reducing plastic use (via reusable cups and lunchboxes), and recycling all flyers and waste from their accommodation.

The latter is something that everybody does at home but often gets forgotten when living in rented accommodation in a different city with different recycling methods. The final challenge is for a company to reuse and recycle props and costumes at the end of their fringe run via the Fringe Swap Shop, which will be open this year from August 26-28 in Fringe Central.

Many companies have already signed up to the challenge, but even halfway through the festival it is worth doing before the city sinks under a sea of discarded flyers. Those seeking to discuss the issues further and broaden the conversation about sustainability of all kinds on the fringe should go to the free, non-ticketed Devoted and Disgruntled Open Space event on sustainability at Fringe Central on Monday, aimed at encouraging discussion and action on access, fairness and sustainability at the fringe.

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