The Greenest Event of Them All: Part 5, What goes in must go out…

Barge and waste

The recycle bin often stands as the unsung hero of an event. While the main focus of the audience might not be on waste – and indeed, it should not be – handling of the waste is one of the most visible signs of addressing sustainability.

The first critical step of waste management is to know what your waste footprint will look like. Are you expecting to serve food that provides organic material for composting? If so, you can break out the compost bins. Are there large amounts of cardboard packaging from shipping/receiving that can be reused? As organizer of the event, you will likely be asked to choose between bidding contractors, each of whom will provide different services and quote various prices. You might have a preference for a certain landfill – say, methane-to-energy – or prefer a company that plans to recycle 85% of the waste.

Secondly, once you have a rough idea of the event footprint, be sure you understand exactly where the waste is going. It is easy to envision a public-relations disaster if that 85% is not being reused as you thought. For example, methane-to-energy is a term used for landfills that produce methane gas from decomposition of organic material in the fill. That methane gas is then captured by pipes in the landfill, and burned to produce energy. From a carbon point of view, this is a very efficient process, as the methane (a greenhouse gas) is burned and reused as heat. Waste-to-energy, on the other hand, denotes burning all solid waste at the disposal site…and that doesn’t look so good from a carbon standpoint. As you may have guessed, some contractors still do not distinguish between the two terms.

Thirdly, it is critical to measure the waste produced. Not all waste contractors keep track of truckloads or tons of solid waste, they simply bill for the duration of the event. If you are hosting an event of significant size, disposal companies might not even have had previous experience organizing for such a project. All of which means if you want to track and report your “waste sustainability”, you must be proactive with the measurements you need. For example, sanitary landfills must report and record the amount and nature of solid waste by the ton, and you can ask your waste management company in advance to provide you with this data. Also record the amount of waste diverted to recycling, compost, and other reuse.

Now that we’ve covered how to manage waste from the back-end, let’s turn our attention to what the guests will see. As I said before, know what your footprint will look like. If you will have food and can legally compost (see your local municipality for compost rules) then you will definitely want to provide compost bins at each waste station. Bins can be as simple as a lid-less cardboard box with a plastic bag lining the inside that can be removed when full.

Educate your staff and have clear labeling for visitors on how to use the compost and recycle bins. It is important to list what food can be included (organic waste, peels, rinds, etc.) and what may be recycled. I have seen events with up to six bins at each station; one for aluminum cans, plastic bottles, mixed paper, white paper, compost, and trash.

Sound like a lot of work? To keep your job easy at the end of the day, then, minimize the use of waste BEFORE it gets to the bin. Limit give-aways. Purchase only what is absolutely needed for the event. Try for all-electronic registration and documentation. If you have to use paper, use FSC certified, print double sided, and use the greatest recyclable content your budget will allow.

Follow these steps, and you have tackled one of the biggest components to hosting truly sustainable event.

The New Taboo: Bottled Water

bottled-water.jpg

You may have heard the buzz surrounding the use of bottled water, and it seems like what was once quite an ordinary artifact at most barbecues, conventions, parties, and any other get-togethers (not to mention regular, everyday usage) has become a veritable symbol of wastefulness – and for good reason.

Here are 10 interesting (and somewhat scary) facts about bottled water:

1. “An estimated 25 percent or more of bottled water is really just tap water in a bottle—sometimes further treated, sometimes not treated at all.” – Allaboutwater.org

2. Drinking bottled water is 1000 (one thousand!) times more expensive than drinking tap water.

3. “In an interesting study conducted by Showtime television, the hosts found that 75% of tested New York City residents actually preferred tap water over bottled water in a blind taste test.” – Allaboutwater.org

4. “Bottling and shipping water is the least efficient method of water delivery ever invented. The energy we waste using bottled water would be enough to power 190,000 homes. But refilling your water bottle from the tap requires no expenditure of energy, and zero waste of resources.” – PBS.org

5. “The Earth Policy Institute estimated that to make the plastic for the [water] bottles [consumed annually] burns up something like 1.5 million barrels of oil, enough to power 100,000 cars for a year.” – SeattlePI.com

6. “Nearly 90 percent of [water] bottles are not recycled.” SeattlePI.com

7. “Bottled water is actually much less regulated than tap water. There are a number of studies in which we find arsenic, disinfection byproducts and bacteria in bottled water.” – SeattlePI.com, quoting Gina Solomon

8. 30 million water bottles are thrown away every day, and each one of them takes 1000 years to biodegrade. – emagazine.com.

9. “In one case, bottled water labeled as “Alaska Premium Glacier Drinking Water: Pure Glacier Water from the Last Unpolluted Frontier” was actually drawn from Public Water System #111241 in Juneau.” – emagazine.com.

10. Buying one gallon’s worth of bottled water is three times more expensive than buying one gallon of gasoline. – emagazine.com

If all that wasn’t enough to convince you not to buy bottled water, consider this: “Instead of relying on a mostly preexisting infrastructure of underground pipes and plumbing, delivering bottled water—often from places as far-flung as France, Iceland or Maine—burns fossil fuels and results in the release of thousands of tons of harmful emissions. Since some bottled water is also shipped or stored cold, electricity is expended for refrigeration. Energy is likewise used in bottled water processing. In filtration, an estimated two gallons of water is wasted for every gallon purified.” – emagazine.com

 

Now, here are tips for alternatives to buying bottled water:

 

-Get a filter for your tap (unless your tap water is quite good in the first place). There are many ways to go about doing this, from getting a Brita-filter to go over your faucet spout to installing one right into the sink system.

– Nalgene bottles are great.

-Brita pitchers are also really great for those who can’t get the faucet filters (e.g. college students).

-For barbecues, parties, and other events, use pitchers or water dispensers that you can use over and over again. In conjunction with these, try to also provide reusable cups instead of disposable cups, and if you must use disposables, try to get recyclable disposables.