Aside from food waste, decorations and promotional event items are among the most common products to end up in the trash after an event. However, with a bit of forethought, you can save these valuable items from landfill by donating them to nonprofit organizations.
During the early stages of planning your meeting, start to look at the items that will not be going home with your attendees. Will you end up with leftover goodie bags? Will there be signage that can’t be reused the next year (a completely different topic that we’ll get to)? Are special props and staging being built that are not intended to be stored or reused? Is your exhibit booth building specialty items for a particular show?
A lot of these items will be decorations that have been custom made for your event and not rented. They may look like items that no one can use, but often the materials used to make them are valuable to community programs, schools, artists and charitable organizations.
The key to successfully donating leftover items is to coordinate with the organization during the planning process. Do not call an organization to come and pick up your pile of attendee bags as you are moving your event from a location. They will not be able to come, and either those items will be thrown away or you will have to deliver them yourself.
Pre-coordination of your donation program allows you to:
- Create designated drop-off and sorting areas in the back-of-house
- Educate your production team on materials that can be recycled
- Collect information about how many items you are donating
- Ensure the charitable organization is getting the type of products they want for their causes
- Facilitate an efficient pickup of items from the venue
Our industry generates millions of tons of waste and one-time-use items, but there are additional steps to take to minimize the effect. We should all do our part to make sure that those items that are required to create custom environments and special days for our clients, end up in the hands of someone who can use them.
Favorite donation programs from top green event professionals:
“We use iLoveSchools here at Stetson,” says Anna Corley of Stetson Convention Services. “They are a nationwide organization that accepts post event donations and disseminates them to schools in need in whatever area of the country you’re in. We’ve partnered with them for the last two years and cannot say enough about what a great service they provide.”
For CD, DVD and video tape recycling, Midori Connolly of Pulse Staging recommends the CD Recycling Center and Green Disk, both nationwide organizations. For other used event items, she recommends Used Event Stuff, an online auction of event goods.
Julie Lindsey of The Gap suggests the Special E, which will pick up leftover food, decor and conference materials nationwide. They select local organizations to receive the donated items, and handle the coordination with the venue and the transportation, for a nominal per attendee fee.
“One meeting’s trash becomes a reuse artist’s treasure at this non-profit hub for artists and art teachers of all ages,” says Robynne Weavers of PSAV San Francisco. “At SCRAP (the Scrounger’s Center for Reusable Art Parts), you’ll be surprised by the things you’ll find, and perhaps even be inspired to do your own re-use project!”
Keith Haag at Edge Recycling suggests Trash to Treasure Creative Reuse Center, a South Florida organization that locates and redistributes items that can be reused as educational and artistic supplies.
Other options include Greener Vegas, a Las Vegas-based nonprofit that collects and repurposes unwanted and non-recyclable products and materials for schools, community associations and other nonprofits; and Materials for the Arts, an arts education program in New York City that promotes environmental awareness and reuse, by repurposing donated items for its artists and students.
Johanna Walsh is an eco-event planner and consultant based in San Francisco and New York City. She is the founder and manager of Twirl Management, a firm that develops and promotes environmentally responsible opportunities for events. Twirl is a Certified Green Business by the City & County of San Francisco. Walsh sits on the Board of Directors for the Northern California Chapter of the Green Meeting Industry Council.