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Circular Economy for Museums

Why are circular economies important?

Current global manufacturing and consumption practices are wholly unsustainable for our planet. From the initial extraction of raw materials to the shipping and packaging for the final consumer, it’s a process which has significant environmental downsides with many products designed to be used once or replaced regularly, which has a great cost to the environment. 

This is clearly demonstrated by the projection that, should the global population trends continue (9.6 billion people by 2050), it would require the equivalent of three planets to provide the natural resources needed to sustain current lifestyles.

We need to move away from these production and consumption behaviours and this change is something we can all contribute to.

How can museums support circular economies?

 As these are global goals, processes, and issues it’s easy to feel powerless to help make progress on them. However, every individual and organisation consumes, to some degree, and can make changes to their own patterns and behaviours. 

Museums can ensure their own consumption of goods and materials is as sustainable as possible. A simple guide is to look at reducing what you use, reuse what you can and recycle what is no longer of any use. The most environmentally friendly product is the one that has never been made. 

However, it’s impossible to never use anything ever again and so for the things we do use it is best practice to get something which can be used more than once and when something must be thrown away, it should be recycled.   

There will be some goods and materials which can only be used once and for which there are no recycling opportunities available. Museum teams should work to ensure that these items make up as little as possible of their consumption.   

Platforms for museums

Platforms for circular economies are available for the selling, buying, giving away and sharing of second-hand usable goods. This is a great way of avoiding throwing out resources and similarly, it can be a way to buy goods for less which are still of high quality. 

As these platforms have grown there are offshoots being developed for specific sectors, including the museum and wider culture sector. These include:

These specific sites specialise in goods and in some cases, services, relating to museums, arts, theatres and anything related to the culture sector. There are also more generic ones which may still have something for your museum: 

If sustainability becomes a core operating principle for your museum it can change how you think about your projects and exhibits. These could be designed and wrapped around a sustainable approach, for example if you can only get a certain kind of display cabinet or currently have a certain size of exhibition board, then think about how you can design the exhibit around those parameters, rather than immediately going to buy something new. 

Further information on how some museums have approached this issue can be found at: 

If you have any questions or want to get in contact to talk about carbon management or any other environmental issues, please contact us at