Recycling At Events – What You Need To Know About Turning Waste Into Resource

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It was during the Albertville Winter Olympics 1992 (hosted in France) that events-related environmental concerns were voiced in public. This led to the first ‘Green Games’ in Lillehammer, Norway, in 1994. The organising committee behind the Lillehammer ‘Green Games’ was awarded with the UNEP Global 500 Award recognising their efforts in setting the bar for environmental responsibility in events.

From there, sustainable events management was born.

Also known as ‘Event Greening,’ this is the process used by event organisers and planners to produce an event that places emphasis on the environmental, economical, and social issues associated with an event.

Sustainable events management uses socially and environmentally responsible steps and decision making throughout the planning and organization stages, and all the way to the execution phase. With the following benefits, it’s no surprise that more and more organisations are waving the green flag:

  • Raises Awareness: Every green event increases awareness, raising opportunity among the suppliers, staff, attendees, and local community, informing them of the benefits of eco-friendly and sustainable living.
  • Cost Efficiency & Savings: Energy conservation, waste reduction, green purchasing – all of these are parts of sustainable events management…and all of them can help organisers significantly cut down their costs.
  • Positive Reputation: Running a green event is a visible demonstration of an organisation’s commitment to sustainability and improving the environment. This is exactly what environmentally savvy communities and attendees are looking for in an event.
  • Better Return On Investment (ROI): And we’re not just talking about the raw financial value and cost reduction provided by eco-friendly events. Even better, you get better ROI in terms of increased strategic opportunities as socially and environmentally responsible businesses like to partner with organisations who’ve taken a similar stance.

BUT Are You Ready?

It sounds exciting on paper – organising a exhibition or conference while keeping everything green, eco-friendly, and sustainable. Yes, it is exciting…even more so if you are genuinely passionate about keeping Mother Nature happy.

However, it’s far from easy.

To successfully run an entirely sustainable event, there are many things you need to understand and factors you need to take into consideration – things that go beyond managing your waste such as:

  • Purchasing green or environmentally safe supplies and materials
  • Waste minimisation (the 3 Rs – Reduce, Reuse, & Recycle)
  • Improving energy efficiency
  • Reducing your carbon footprint and other harmful emissions
  • Water consumption and reduction of sewage
  • And the list goes on and on…

It can be tough taking the plunge head-first but that doesn’t mean you can’t take ‘baby steps’ to improve the eco-friendliness of your event.

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Making Your Events Eco-Friendly – A Step-By-Step Recycling Guide

Yes, there are many nuances to sustainable events management and you need to understand this as an organiser. If you have a forthcoming event however, you may not have the time to fully integrate everything. But hey, you don’t have to!

While running a 100% sustainable event is the ideal scenario, you can take small steps instead…and you can start by making recycling – one of the 3 R’s of waste management and reduction – a core part of your event. Here’s a quick guide to help you:

Step 1: Get The Whole Team In On The Act

You might have a strong desire to recycle at your up-and-coming conference or exhibition. What about the rest of the team? Successfully running an event is a team effort and so is recycling as much waste as possible AFTER the doors close. If your event is run by a committee, ensure that your recycling and waste management efforts have their full support.

  • Have Firm Policies In Place – The list of policies you need to enforce to make after-event recycling a success deserves a separate guide and discussion. However, you could start by specifying that EVERY supplier and sponsor to the event MUST provide services and materials that are in sync with your recycling and waste management program for the event. It’s pretty broad as a start, but you can work from there – discussing it with the heading committee…detailing what materials and services are in line with your recycling efforts.
  • Sign Up For A Waste & Recycling Service – Not all waste management and recycling services providers are created equal. You want a service provider who covers the following important points in their contract:
  • Delivery of recyclable waste to pre-arranged facilities or destinations
  • Thorough documentation of the recycling and waste volume
  • The amount of bins to be used; the color and signage; the type of equipment; and setting up of waste facilities
  • Recycle bin installations, layout, and placement
  • Collection time, staffing, & frequency

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Step 2: Pay More Attention To Packaging

Different events produce different types of waste. What you can be sure of, however, is that a significant amount of packaging waste – tons of beverage containers, food wrappers, etc. – will be left behind after the event. With that in mind, it makes perfect sense to pay more attention to the types of packaging used by your suppliers, sponsors, and staff.

By being specific about the types of packaging and materials that suppliers, caterers, retailers, and stall holders must adhere to, you ensure that they play their role in recycling by using packaging that suits your recycling program.

It’s important to note that not all packaging materials can be easily recycled. The list below will give you a better idea of which materials are ‘recycling-friendly’:

  • Steel and aluminum cans
  • HDPE and PET plastic containers
  • Paper (used for event flyers, brochures, and magazines)
  • Glass bottles
  • Cardboard and liquid paperboard (ex.: juice cartons)

Step 3: Label The Bins With The RIGHT Signage

Some waste can be recycled, some not. Others are biodegradable while many like plastic won’t decompose for up to 30 years. To avoid spending more time sifting through the waste bins than you should, you want to segregate your waste better by developing uniform and eye-catching signs for your recycling stations and bins.

You need your signs to be clear and very easy to understand. This ensures that wherever people go and whenever they see your signage, they can easily recognise which type of waste should be thrown in which bin. You may also want to take this a step further by developing information literature for your audience – one that creates excitement for your event and provides education on your waste management efforts.

Without going too deep into design principles, here are some good rules of thumb to follow when designing standard signs and information literature for your event’s recycling program:

  • Keep it easy to understand – all signs should be written in English (or the native language of your attendees for our non-English readers)
  • Be concise, clear, and steer clear of technical terms that are confusing. This isn’t about impressing people with your knowledge of recycling terminologies
  • Keep the design simple and, if possible, keep the colors and images used uniformed

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Step 4: Be Mindful Of The Location / Placement

The whole team along with your suppliers, caterers, and others have committed to the recycling program. You’ve signed a contract with a reliable recycling and waste management services provider. And to top it all off, the recycling stations’ designs are sure to catch people’s attention at your event. But here comes the question…

What about the attendees? How will you get them to cooperate with your event waste management efforts?

It’s impossible for you to ‘police’ each and every individual who attends your event, and you wouldn’t want to do that to be honest. What you can do, however, is make it easier for your attendees to dispose their waste properly…and location / placement is key.

Place your recycling stations and general waste bins in strategic locations – locations that are high in traffic and easily accessible. It’s also important that you have general bins close to your designated recycling stations. That way, all options and types of waste – recyclable or otherwise – are taken care of within that location. Waste bins should be strategically placed at the following types of locations:

  • Close to where food and beverages are sold and consumed
  • Entry and exit points to the event
  • Pedestrian intersections with a lot of traffic
  • Near pedestrian pathways
  • Close to the main attractions

Step 5: Evaluate Your Performance After The Event

You measure your event’s success by looking into Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) such as amount of tickets sold, number of attendees, engagement levels, and those are just to name a few. Doing so gives you a valuable insight into the factors that impacted the event’s success, pinpoint which issues or problem areas need your attention and how you can improve the next conference, exhibition, or concert that you’ll organise.

In the same way, your event’s waste management and recycling program needs thorough evaluation when the fun and games are over. Granted, KPIs vary from one type of event to another but having said that, here are some metrics you may want to pay close attention to:

  • Recyclables in the wrong bin. If you have a significant amount of recyclables in the wrong bin, it’s possible that you need to give your standard recycling bin signage a design upgrade so people can recognise and understand it better.
  • Contamination in recycling bins. Recycling contaminants can be just as hazardous to your efforts as it is to one’s health when left alone unattended. Plastic bags, for example, are the worst recycling contaminants. They can easily get wet and dirty…making them unsuitable for recycling.
  • Recyclables in waste bins. Remember, general waste bins are different from recycling bins. The contents of the former get tossed to a landfill or incinerator and you don’t want recyclables in there!

We hope the above can help encourage you to take the positive steps towards a more evironmentally friendly event! We will be discussing more aspects of eco-events in future blog posts so would love to hear your feedback.

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On August 29th, 2014, posted in: News by