A first step for many planners when they decide to implement sustainable practices is to develop a waste management plan. This is a logical start because not only is it highly visible, but waste is an area in which we have the greatest amount of influence. However, where and how to begin, and in what areas, is not as obvious. The soon to be released APEX Green Meeting and Event Standards focus on Waste Management with the methodology of 1. Reduce, 2. Reuse and 3. Recycle.
The practice of waste reduction not only benefits the environment by reducing the amount of waste headed for a landfill, but often has cost savings as well. The largest waste producers of an event and those to focus on are generally conference materials, collateral, and food and beverage. By planning more and reducing the quantities produced in each of these areas, a planner can save money on the production, printing, shipping and hauling cost, food overage, and more. Some methods to reduce waste are as follows:
- Provide information and registration for conference online and via email.
- Eliminate or reduce paper used for conference agendas and programs by offering materials online or on reusable flash drives. Communicate this with presenters as well.
- Limit materials and collateral by:
- Bringing only what is anticipated for attendees.
- Offering to send material upon request.
- Offering to give information as PDA downloads.
- Avoiding dated material.
- Use electronic scanners to gain attendee information instead of paper forms.
- Publish exhibit kit online.
- Provide water fill stations instead of plastic water bottles.
- Inform caterer of exact numbers to minimize waste. This can be achieved by having attendees indicate their meal plan when registering.
- Use china, silverware, linen napkins and tablecloths, or other reusable options whenever possible.
- Provide items in bulk opposed to single serving whenever possible, i.e. condiments, beverages, etc.
- Provide food “buffet-style” instead of box lunches.
The practice of reuse is another way to both reduce the amount of waste headed to the landfill and also save money. Sometimes there are up-front costs that may exist, for example, purchasing reusable water bottles. However, these can often be an opportunity for sponsorship and are typically offset by the reduced need of plastic water bottles, which can run upwards of $4/bottle. Another example is reusable signage. While these signs initially might cost a little more, the savings are significant in the long term. A few areas in which to implement reuse strategies are the following:
- Conference bags, badge holders, and lanyards should be made of post-consumer content. Ask that attendees return badge holders for reuse at the end of conference and provide visible, convenient locations for drop off.
- Consider giving reusable mugs or water bottles to attendees for use during the conference in place of coffee mugs and plastic bottles.
- Donate leftover food to local shelters or food banks.
- Produce non dated signs and banners on post-consumer content to allow for reuse.
- Use plants for centerpieces instead of flowers. Donate plants locally or give away to attendees at the end of show.
- Incorporate renewable materials such as bamboo into booth design and use LED or energy efficient lighting.
- Donate leftover materials and supplies at the end of the show. Create space on the show floor for recyclable materials to be dropped off.
Even though many people have been recycling for years at home and work, it can still be one of the most confusing and complicated elements of a waste diversion plan. The basis for this confusion is the lack of standardization throughout the country among different recycling centers. Plus, there is often a difference between what is accepted residentially and commercially. As a planner, the best first step is to contact the venue and clarify what they accept in their recycling stream, and how it is collected. Most facilities are now offering a “single stream” service which allows attendees to put all recyclable materials in one bin to then be sorted off-site. Here are some ways in which you can simplify the recycling process:
- Include facility recycling information in exhibitor kit. Educate and encourage exhibitors to participate in recycling programs.
- Ask that the facility place a recycling bin at each trash bin. This eliminates the need for the attendee to “seek out” a recycle bin.
- Make sure the signage on the recycling bin clearly states what is accepted.
- Ask that if disposable materials must be used, the facility provides a way to recycle or compost these materials.
- Ensure that if you are providing compostable serviceware, they are being composted. It is important to remember COMPOSTABLE MATERIALS CANNOT BE RECYCLED!
Once a planner begins to align at their meeting elements with the Reduce, Reuse and Recycle principles, it is amazing the amount of waste that is eliminated and diverted. It is important to remember to start implementing a waste diversion plan with elements that are possible and not to get overwhelmed. Even one practice in each of these categories is a great start and makes a big impact. The most important step is the first one!