Yes, it’s the dreaded P word, plastic. We’re all obsessed with it and rightly so. Since the mighty Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II, most of us have been shocked into the realisation of the devastating effect plastic is having on our beautiful planet.
A big part of this is the single use plastics we have come to rely on, on a daily basis.
Plastic at events: what’s happening and why
The fast-paced nature of events means convenience is key. Historically this has meant ‘grab and go’ bottles of water, disposable coffee cups and ad lib pens and paper.
While this has, until recently, been expected and accepted as the norm, times are clearly changing.
A British MP at a recent event in Holland said that single use plastic, just like the above, should no longer be used at conferences. He was talking about sustainability in events, but noted that it’s a problem in all areas of life, for instance the earphones wrapped in plastic on aeroplanes.
Here are some plastic facts:
– It takes 500 years for plastic to break down. Just imagine, that toothbrush you had when you were five is still somewhere on the planet today!
– Around eight million tonnes of litter is dumped in the oceans each year
– One in six fish in UK waters contained plastics in their bodies in 2013
– It’s not just plastic itself doing the damage, but the resources it takes to produce
Where do we start on the war against plastic?
It can seem like a minefield, but we can make small steps to create bigger change. As Event Managers, it’s our duty to do what we can, as we all know events are one of the biggest culprits for plastic waste. This includes everything from the name badges and carrier bags we give out, to the bottles of water on the tables.
But while they are the obvious things we think about, if we start to think deeper, perhaps at aspects that are not directly in our control, then it only gets worse. Have you seen the reusable food wrap on sale in a few places now? It’s great to replace the cling film that covered your last conference sandwiches. Then there’s the plastic that’s actually hidden from the naked eye, such as that in certain tea bags or the thin layer of polythene in cardboard, which makes it difficult to recycle.
Is there change happening in the events world?
Let’s take an event such as Glastonbury. As of this year they’re no longer selling bottles of water at their festival. Festival goers are encouraged to bring reusable cups, as well as their own cutlery and even containers for condiments, as organisers do away with all non-compostable plates, cups, straws, sauce sachets and cutlery.
What a fantastic move for the festival that sold over one million plastic bottles at their 2017 event!
Events up and down the country are now employing the reusable cup policy. Here at FoxWylie, we chose reusable cups as our client Christmas gifts last year and they went down a treat! With the likes of Waitrose no longer giving out their free coffee unless you have your own cup to put it in, you can’t afford to be without one!
What are the options?
There are a number of alternatives available to UK events to keep their delegates fed and watered whilst reducing the litter and waste impacts.
Reusable cup schemes: As we’ve already mentioned a reusable cup scheme can be implemented by venues and events using hardened plastic glasses. Many events use a deposit scheme; if guests want to keep their cups as a souvenir, they can, or they can return them and get their deposit back at the end of the day. If you choose to get your cups branded they are also an excellent marketing tool.
Water refill stations: This can be as simple as a table with some jugs of water, to drinking fountains or mobile refill stations. Don’t forget your signage so people can find them!
Reusable bottles: Encourage the use of reusable bottles, either that are brought from home or bought at the event itself or even in advance during ticket sales.
Branded gifts: It’s common place for branded pens to be given to delegates for conferences, but these often get left and then thrown away. Did you know there are some small charity schemes that donate these pens to children in Africa and similar countries? Or why not give your delegates a branded reusable bottle as a give away at your next event? Check out our blog on branded gifts for more environmentally friendly ideas.
Waste conscious venues
While all of the above is very important and will help to make a great deal of difference, venues also need to get on board for us to see a real difference.
There are a growing number of waste-conscious venues, including 15Hatfields, which is leading the fight against plastic in London by aiming to be the capital’s first single-use plastic-free venue! They filter their own water and decant it into reusable glass bottles to serve, and say they have saved over 1.5 million plastic bottles going into landfill.