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.)
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.