Art House Convergence is pleased to launch Sustainable Art House, a collaborative response to the global climate emergency. For the sake of our planet, future, and well-being — we encourage movie theaters everywhere to take steps to reduce waste and carbon emissions. Take at least one step towards making your theater more environmentally sustainable.  

This guide includes techniques, strategies, and specific steps art house theaters can take to combat the ongoing environmental crisis. Taking steps to make your theater more green? Share your efforts on social media #greenarthouse #sustainablearthouse #arthouseconvergence 

Have great ideas about steps other theaters can take? Share them here and we will add them to our guide. 

We believe that art houses’ commitment to the well-being of our teams and communities should impact everything we do and that we all have a role to play in caring for our planet and each other. 

Take the Pledge: Say Goodbye to Plastic Water Bottles

One great first step theaters can take is eliminating plastic water bottles from their concession stand. 

  1. Most single-use bottled water is sold in PET plastic bottles, which means they are made from fossil fuels.
  2.  9 million tons of plastic waste end up in the ocean each year and circulate back into the food chain.
  3. 1 million plastic bottles are purchased world-wide each minute.
  4. In 2016, less than half the bottles purchased were recycled.

Your individual theater has the power to keep hundreds of thousands of plastic out of landfills and oceans over the next five years.  

Take the Pledge, promise to keep plastic water bottles out of your concession stand and join theaters nationwide in agreeing to eliminate plastic water bottles from their concession stand in service of ecological sustainability.


Things you can do today:

Eliminate single use plastics.

Eliminate single use plastics. One of the most affordable steps your theater can take to reduce the amount of waste it sends to the landfill. Single-use plastics account for 40% of plastic produced each year, and every year approximately 9 million tons of plastic waste end up in our oceans.  Eliminating non-compostable single use plastics — straws, plastic water bottles, cups — from your concessions stand can dramatically reduce your theater’s contribution to plastics in the ocean and landfills. Depending on their size your theater you likely sell between 10,000 – 30,000 beverages a year, that means that art houses working together have the power to keep 6 million cups out of landfills each year. 

Concerned about the change? Post statistics and signs in your concession stand or slides in your pre-show letting your customers know about the changes your theater is making to positively impact the environment. 

The Roxy Theater in Missoula, MT has eliminated single-use plastics from its concessions stand by offering reusable cups, free cups of water, and compostable straws.

At the Roxie Theater in San Francisco, free water refills and recyclable cans of carbonated water are offered instead of plastic water bottles. Since switching to cans they have saved 30,000+ bottles from the trash.

Reward guests for bringing reusable beverage containers.

 Incentivize guests bringing reusable water bottles and coffee mugs by offering coupons, discounts, and other rewards. Always refill water bottles on request. Remember, plastic water bottles are a major contributor to ocean waste. 

Help guests properly sort waste.

Make your recycling and composting programs more effective by clearly labeling waste receptacles and including pre-show slides that remind guests where to dispose of concession items.

Keep liquids out of your recycling.

Liquids slow down the recycling process and can contaminate paper products in the recycling bin. Keep liquids and organics out of your recycling by making sure there is a clearly labeled drain or receptacle for liquid disposal nearby. Or keep your recycling bins adjacent to your drinking fountain.

Adjust your thermostat by 5 degrees.

Reduce your carbon footprint and electricity usage by increasing your AC by 5 degrees in summer, and decreasing your heat by 5 degrees in winter. Be aware of when spaces are being used and adjust the thermostat accordingly. 

Keep your HVAC system and vents clean.

Dirty HVAC filters are less efficient and use more energy. Dirty and blocked vents require as much as 25% more energy to distribute air. Keep your electricity bill low and minimize your carbon footprint by taking care of your HVAC system. 

Partner with a local non-profit.

Host a local non-profit that specializes in spearheading environmentally conscious initiatives. Create space on your screen and in your lobby for them to share information about their initiatives and donate proceeds to support their efforts. 

For its screening of Wasted! The Story of Food Waste the Nickelodeon Theatre in Columbia, SC partnered with the Columbia SC Food Policy Committee, a committee of city government, and Don’t Waste Food SC to host a post-screening conversation and distribute educational materials about reducing food waste. 

Offer reusable plates and cups for staff.

At many theaters free popcorn or soda is a key perk of being a team member. Make sure that you have reusable plates and cups available so that staff can enjoy their snack without sending waste to the landfill.

Turn off lights and computers when they aren’t in use.

 The typical office computer, monitor and printer draw 200 watts per day. Reduce electricity use by shutting down office computers and printers, and turning off office lights when you aren’t using them. 

Limit office printing.

Make sure you are only printing when necessary and use both sides of paper. Leftover hand-outs after a meeting? Be sure they end up in recycling. 

Things you can do this quarter:

Even though these changes can’t happen overnight, your theater can adopt them without breaking the bank or breaking ground on a new building. 

Start composting.

 Composting is a great way to keep organic materials including food waste, non-recyclable paper, and yard waste out of landfills where they are not able to re-enter the soil and end up producing methane gas.  Theaters produce a lot of compostable waste, including popcorn, coffee grounds, and soiled paper towels. You can also increase the benefit of composting by switching to compostable popcorn bags, straws, and coffee cups.  

Questions about  how to compost? Some U.S. cities including Ann Arbor, San Francisco, Denver, Boulder, Seattle, and Portland, offer municipal organics/ food waste collection for composting, while others including Milwaukee and Boston offer pick-up by independent organizations.  Check out your municipality’s sanitation website or Compost Now to learn more.

What you can compost? Most composting includes organic food waste, uncoated non-recyclable paper, and yard debris.  For a movie theater this might mean leftover popcorn, coffee grounds, tea bags, soiled paper towels, and meal leftovers. However, check with your local hauler to make sure you understand their specific regulations. 

Biodegradable products are not compostable and can still leave a toxic residue. Make sure a product is compostable before sorting it to your compost bin. 

Compostable Plastics?

Compostable plastics are non-toxic and are made from organic materials including cellulose, corn and potato starches, instead of petroleum. These PLA (polylactic acid) based products are often marketed as the compostable alternative to other plastics. Providers include EcoProducts and Fabri-Kal Greenware. 

Remember, PLAs and other compostable plastics are not suitable for home composting and are not accepted by all municipal compost facilities. Check with your municipality. While the city of Denver is unable to compost PLA plastic containers, Ann Arbor can accept all BPI-certified plastics and containers. Check to learn if a product has BPI-certification

Start Recycling.

Recycling keeps materials out of landfills by turning them into raw materials to manufacture new products. Many U.S. municipalities currently offer blue bin recycling for newspapers, white paper, plastic, glass, clean cardboard, and aluminum. For art houses this includes office paper, mail, and bottles and cans from concessions. Check with your local hauler for details about their recycling program. 

Remember not all recyclable products have the same environmental impact. While glass bottles and cans can be recycled indefinitely, plastics degrade with each usage and can be recycled relatively few times.

Also remember that not all plastics are recyclable. Plastic wrap including the wrap around palettes, plastic bags, and flexible packaging including potato chip bags and pouches for gummies and other candies are not recyclable.

Start Reusing.

A reusable popcorn bowl at the Roxy Theater in Missoula, Montana.

A reusable popcorn bowl at the Roxy Theater in Missoula, Montana.

 In many cities and towns, local recycling programs are in crisis and formerly recyclable goods are being sent to the landfill. The best way to keep waste out of the landfill is to reduce waste entirely by switching to reusable options. 

Serve popcorn in reusable bowls. Even better for the environment than recycling composting, switching to reusable popcorn bowls can dramatically reduce the amount of waste a theater produces. Especially since theaters sell so much popcorn each year. Check out your annual report, that’s how many bowls or bags you can keep out of the trash. 

The Roxy Theater in Missoula, MT serves its popcorn in stainless steel bowls that it cleans in a dishwasher at the end of the night.

Serve beverages in reusable cups. From free water to soda and beer, movie guests usually need a beverage to rinse down their delicious salty and sweet snacks. Offer reusable cups to reduce waste. 

The Lyric Cinema in Fort Collins, Colorado serves all of its beverages in reusable glasses and cups and has dish tubs outside of its main auditoriums. Cups are washed by hand in a four basin sink.

Minimize Shipping.

Shipping is a major contributor to greenhouse gas and carbon emissions. To reduce your theater’s carbon footprint think locally and partner with local suppliers of concessions, snacks, and beer for offerings manufactured in your community. 

Theaters can also minimize DCP shipping by receiving content via digital delivery. Providers include EclairPlay, Proludio, Digital Cinema Distribution Coalition, and Digital Cinema United.

Donate leftover popcorn.

No matter how much people love popcorn or how carefully we calibrate nightly preparation, sometimes there is some leftover. Partner with a local non-profit or farm to donate food waste as livestock feed.  Check with your county agricultural extension office, state veterinarian, or county health department to learn more about specific state regulations and to find contact information for local farmers. 

The Roxy Theater in Missoula, MT bags and donates leftover popcorn to local urban farms to feed chicken and ducks.

Sell bulk candy with compostable cups or bags.

Items purchased and sold in bulk require less wrapping and send less waste to the landfill. Candy can be served in reusable or compostable tubs or compostable brown paper bags. Bulk candy also offers the additional benefit of allowing patrons to mix and match their candy selections. 

The Gold Town Nickelodeon in Juneau, Alaska and the Lyric Cinema both currently offer mix and match candy, reducing their theaters output of wrappers and shrink-wrap.

Offer candy with compostable packaging.

Get to know your concession stand, and prioritize items with packaging that doesn’t need to go to the landfill.  Generally boxes are compostable while plastic wrappers and bags are not

Purchase Ethically Sourced Products.

In addition to seeking out ecologically-friendly packaging, stock your concession stand with items with ethically sourced ingredients. Companies like Verdant Trade help theaters find Fair Trade Certified vendors of coffee and snacks that prioritize ethical labor practices and a positive environmental impact.

Green Cleaning.

 Keeping our theaters clean can create waste and use chemicals. When possible use reusable rags and sponges instead of paper towels, environmentally friendly cleaners, and purchase supplies like hand soap in bulk to reduce the use of plastics.

Encourage staff to bike and use public transportation.

Does your theater offer parking spaces? Consider offering employees bus passes instead or installing a bike rack.

Conduct a waste audit.

The best way to strategically reduce waste is to figure out what kind of waste your theater is producing. Recyclables going into the trash? Packaging piling up? Identifying how and when your theater produces waste can contribute to greater efficiency, targeted waste reduction, and meaningful conversations with suppliers about their packaging techniques. 

To conduct a waste audit you are going to need to sort and examine your trash.

  1. Work with volunteers from your organization and community, using gloves and face masks sort through your landfill-bound garbage. We recommend sorting through a multi-day or week’s worth of garbage depending on your theater’s approach to waste storage. 
  2. If possible, separate office and theater waste so you can identify where waste is being produced.
  3. Record of the amount of waste produced. 
  4. Record the amount of recyclables or compostables in the general garbage and where they entered the garbage stream. 
  5. Sort waste into categories such as office paper, packaging, concessions, etc. and record the amount in each category 
  6. Analyze your results. What categories of waste are the highest? Are there specific places in your theater where trash is going into the wrong receptacle? Can waste production and mis-sorting be reduced? 
  7. Make a plan for reducing waste. Popping too much popcorn at the end of the night? Using coffee pods? Figure out what kind of waste you are producing and identify ways to cut back. 
  8. Hold yourself accountable. Plan on conducting a second audit in 1-2 years to see if your plan was successful. 

Conduct a marketing audit.

Are you printing more marketing materials than needed? Track the volume of marketing materials being discarded and adjust levels accordingly. For festivals and special events, allow pass holders to opt in to the printed guide. 

Switch to energy saving light bulbs.

Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) and LEDs both use less energy than incandescent bulbs. Energy saving bulbs last longer sending fewer bulbs to the trash and use less energy. However CFLs contain small amounts of mercury, be sure to select an eco-friendly variety and dispose of all light bulbs properly. Check with your local hauler or Earth911 to find your nearest light bulb recycling stations. 

Keep hazardous materials out of the landfill.

From cleaning supplies to e-waste to batteries, art houses regularly use a variety of materials that can be toxic or environmentally harmful if they are sent to the landfill or incinerator. Educate your staff about proper waste disposal and consult your local hauler or Earth911 to find recycling stations willing to accept hazardous materials.

Long Term Projects:

Make environmental impact part of your mission.

Our mission informs our strategic plans, how we allocate our resources, and the ways we invest in the future of our organizations. When we include our environmental impact in our mission statement we are making a long-term commitment and establishing mechanisms to hold ourselves accountable. 

Install solar panels.

Solar panels at the Loft Cinema in Tucson, AZ.

Solar panels at the Loft Cinema in Tucson, AZ.

Installing solar panels can be a sustainable, cost-effective, energy solution for theaters seeking to reduce their carbon footprint and electric bill. After upfront costs, solar power systems’ can result in a significant reduction in utility costs which can make them an ethical and sensible investment. Theaters should investigate local grants, tax credits, and fundraising opportunities that can help support the transition to solar powered systems. 

Amherst Cinema in Amherst, MA and the Palm Theatre in San Luis Obispo, CA both use solar energy to reduce their carbon footprint.

Install high efficiency toilets.

Select toilets with a WaterSense certification that waste less water. 

Pursue LEED certification.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design is the most widely used building rating system in the world. Leed offers guidelines and certification for building projects and assesses factors including carbon impact, water efficiency, and materials used.