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September 9, 2011

Thanks to BlogHer and the bloggers who speak up!

 

I haven’t been posting much recently because I’m hard at work on the Plastic-free Book. But I had to take a break to fill you in on a pretty cool story about what happens when enough of us speak up. As many of you know, I attended the annual BlogHer conference in early August. I brought my usual travel supplies (reusable mug, reusable utensils, Lunchbot container, etc.) so I wouldn’t get stuck with any unexpected plastic waste. In previous years, the conference venue has provided real china and silverware, so assuming this year would be no different, I didn’t think to bring my stainless steel container with me to the actual conference center. I left in my hotel room.  I gasped when I got to the lunch buffet line, starving after having missed breakfast, and encountered black plastic plates. And not just any kind of plastic, but polystyrene — a particularly toxic kind that is rarely recycled.

What should I do? I could go back to the hotel and get my container, but I would miss out on the meet up with the other green bloggers I’d traveled so far to see. Walking from the San Diego Convention Center to my hotel room this year was like walking from one end of an airport to another. That place was huge. And I was ready to pass out from hunger. I caved. But I also decided that if I was going to end up with a plastic plate, I would keep it and reuse it during the rest of the conference. Blogger Amber Strocel agreed to do the same thing with me. (Read Amber’s excellent post about the plate situation here.)

BlogHer 2011 plastic plates

Rinsing off my plate in the convention center bathroom sink as women beside me washed their hands and checked their makeup, I started to feel like a freak. No matter how many times I do this kind of thing, I still sometimes feel self-conscious. And then another blogger walked up to me smiling and thanked me for what I was doing. She got it. I explained my blog and mission and gave her my card. The embarrassment dissolved. I was glad I’d chosen to wash off my plate in this semi-public way.

But the question remained: why had BlogHer allowed disposable plastic plates at the conference when in previous years they had been so concerned about reducing waste? And these plates were not even collected back for recycling but thrown in the trash! There must have been some mistake. Before posting a big fat rant on this blog, as I have in the past, I decided to contact the organizers and find out why and how the plastic plate decision was made. I also emailed the women of the Green Moms Blog Carnival, many of whom also emailed the BlogHer organizers to find out why plastic plates were used.

Our emails, and hopefully emails from many other bloggers, made a difference. This week, Lori Luna from BlogHer posted an explanation on the BlogHer web site explaining the miscommunication that had occurred between the organizers and the convention center and how because of pressure from BlogHer members, the convention center had made the decision to change their policies. Previously, the center did not allow china plates in the Sails Pavilion, where our meals were served, because the room is not carpeted. But as Lori writes, “Because of our conference and our community, they are making big changes. They will offer china plates in all areas of the convention center, upon request.”

Please check out Lori’s blog post and leave a comment thanking the BlogHer organizers for taking this step to ensure that future conferences at the San Diego Convention Center generate less waste. Hopefully, many lessons have been learned: the importance of very clear communication when planning an event, the importance of speaking up about wasteful practices, and for me, the importance of being prepared at all times.

I’d love to hear some of your stories about speaking up when it might have been difficult and getting unexpected positive results. Please leave your comments. While I’m not blogging much this month, I do read them all, and they encourage me in my work. You can also participate on the Plastic-Free Discussion Forum, where a few great conversations have been taking place.



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14 comments
Betty
Betty

The mistake they had done is really disappointing. It really caused a scar in the conventions image. I think they were really embarrassed to commit the mistake and they must double their effort in the next convention. I like your expression in the photo. I understand how you feel and grateful for the reminder on speaking up.

celia
celia

Thnx to Pheas above for comment on SGK. A local director responded to my challenge about plastic and took the meeting with me to discuss this, telling me about a "PR problem" they were having due to all the tents, camps set-ups, food service, trash, etc. Something like 6000 people involved in a 3 Day event? I suggested better ways of doing things, but in the end they would not stand up to their event planners from Chicago. Does SGK's web site still deny any breast health consequences from plastic? Yikes!

Mary Hunt
Mary Hunt

Hi Beth I tried to leave a comment over on BlogHer, but ended up going through too many sign up hoops and then lost my post. Great job pulling this together and it's good to see that BlogHer is being responsive and working to improve for next year.

Marcy Hobbs
Marcy Hobbs

Thank you for being courteous enough to find out the back story before you went on a rant. The ranting makes your convictions less credible to me. I'm always more impressed with balanced information.

Lori Popkewitz Alper
Lori Popkewitz Alper

Such great news Beth! It's times like this where we are reminded that we truly can make a difference by using our collective voice. I will always love that photo of you and Amber-and I will always appreciate that the two of you carried those hand washed plates around throughout the convention. Hope you are rockin' the book-can't wait to see it!

Dmarie
Dmarie

wow, gotta love a story with such a happy ending!

Terri Babin
Terri Babin

I was at Blog Her '11 and was also surprised about the usage of plastic plates. I have been a huge fan of your blog for quite some time and am bummed I didn't have an opportunity to meet you and introduce myself! I live in San Diego, so the fact that you had a part in getting the policies changed at our convention center is HUGE...THANK YOU!!! If there is a group of other green bloggers out there I would love to connect with you. I am a newbie blogger at www.EcoCrazyMom.com, I just started my blog in August. I have a blog directory and would love for you to add your blog, just click on the bloggers tab & then on "blog directory:. Thanks again for speaking up and helping reduce plastic usage. Smiles, Terro @EcoCrazyMom

Emily
Emily

Way to go! I just started my MES in a Faculty of Environment (not that many of those at universities in Canada)! I was absolutely disgusted to see paper plates (the sort that can neither be composted nor recycled when dirtied), and plastic forks at the orientation meals! I had my own fork, but I did not notice anyone saving their cutlery. I'll probably have to join the Graduate Students Association to rally for giving out free sporks next year instead of reusable mugs, which everyone probably has already (and despite giving those out, I saw many, many non-recyclable cups being bought from Tim Horton's throughout the orientation).

Susan @WhyMommy
Susan @WhyMommy

Wow - way to go! And congratulations on the book-writing - that's great! Susan

Lynn from OrganicMania.com
Lynn from OrganicMania.com

Beth, I don't know how I missed that photo of you and Amber and your sullen mugs looking over the plastic plates! Priceless. This is a great story...to think that an entire Convention Center's practices have changed...is HUGE! Signing this, Still bummed I miss you...next year I hope! Lynn

KarinSDCA
KarinSDCA

I am taking a six-week long cooking class (in San Diego) with 31 other students where we cook and eat the meals we prepare. Everyone brings their own plate, utensils, mug, and apron. Most were return students who knew this already. They brought extra for us newbies! There was prolific use of paper towels in my first class and I summoned my courage to ask about that. Turns out, it was the first day and the towels had been left dirty inadvertently. Usually, one person from a rotating group takes the towels home to be washed each week. Someone did take them home after class.

Tracey TieF
Tracey TieF

WOW! Good for you for finding allies and following through. It's a slippery slope towards the venue promoting itself as green because it offers real plates! People ALWAYS appreciate real plates etc. The past two months have been very challenging for me with regards to embarrassment and plastic because I have been travelling. I have inadvertently consumed much plastic. I can't seem to get it right while travelling, caught between squeezing out tubes of ketchup for my daughter, and getting nailed for liquids and gels at airport security. For every plastic package I saved this summer, it seems I ditched perfectly good food in glass. I really wish the world would make it easier! And that's why it's SO AWESOME that your speaking out changed a convention centre's policy! I feel like a pain in the ass, which I often am for unrelated reasons! I feel like a self obsessed jerk specifying no plastic when I place an order that doesn't sound like it will come with plastic. But sometimes, when I don't pre empt plastic, it shows up in little cups of sauce, tubes of ketchup, utensils at the bottom of the bag etc. I have a bad record with straws. Servers always seem to open the package or use the plastic straw before I can whip out my awesome stainless steel one. Carrying my stainless steel straw seemed to prevent the need for straws entirely. Only when I forget does my 5 year old get slapped with a straw. But here is a triumph. I was NOT hassled about not taking a plastic bag at my local family take out place this week. This one man seems to think that I will sue them if anything they give me leaks. I brought an insulated lunch bag to prove that I didn't need bags and lo and behold, they spared me the speech and even seemed supportive. And at the sushi restaurant where I sent the letter asking for no straws, we got no straws this time!I didn't see a single straw in the restaurant. Maybe I freaked them green! Love & RRRevolution, Tracey

Pheas
Pheas

I recently saw a photo of a blogger I admire wearing a "Race for the Cure" shirt. Because it's an anti-oppression blog, I thought he would want to know that "Race for the Cure" is run by the Komen Foundation, which still funds barbaric and unreliable experiments on live animals (talk about oppression). Often when I let people know about things like this, they are defensive and shut off. But this blogger thanked me, said he had no idea, and changed the picture. Are you unknowingly supporting charities that torture animals? HumaneSeal.org is a great place to find out, especially since charities certainly don't broadcast this sort of thing. It gave me confidence. This week, I attended a potluck at a place that had had paper plates and so on at the last potluck (more sustainable single-use items than most places have, but still). Because it was Zero-Waste Week, I summoned my courage and shared on the potluck's info page the suggestion that we all bring our own plates and utensils. I was surprised how many people did! Speak up, speak up, speak up!

Margaret
Margaret

"Previously, the center did not allow china plates in the Sails Pavilion, where our meals were served, because the room is not carpeted." What? I suppose carpet makes plates less prone to breakage, but really? How often do adults at a conference drop their plates, that it was so much of a concern?

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