Whenever I give my plastic-free presentation, I’m interested to see what the hosting organization will do to ensure the event itself is as plastic-free as possible. I try to give tips beforehand so I don’t walk in on a table full of plastic cups (which has happened more than once, ironically.) But lately, I’ve discovered some really ingenious ideas, some of which I wouldn’t have thought of myself. Some are about reducing plastic, and some are about reducing waste in general. So I thought I would share my favorites.
1) Ask attendees to BYO: bring their own reusable cups, bottles, utensils, containers, and even shirt!
Green Sangha’s website announcement of its Plastics 360 event in Lafayette last month included the following:
Refreshments: Light, earth-friendly snacks will be provided at registration (9:00-9:30 am). BYO lunch! We will provide coffee and beverages. (BYO mug if you can.)
And at the Zero Waste Youth Convergence in San Francisco the next day, attendees were ask to do the following:
Bring: $15, plate/tupperware, fork, cup/mug and a plain, light-colored T-shirt for screen-printing your conference t-shirt. Don’t forget a notebook and pen, if you want to take notes; together we will redefine Zero Waste; Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rot.
Yes, in addition to asking the kids to bring their own foodware, they also asked them to bring an old shirt so that instead of acquiring yet one more tee shirt, they could screen-print the conference logo onto a shirt they already had. For kids that forgot to bring a shirt, the organizers provided second hand tee shirts from thrift shops. I thought this was the coolest idea ever. (Yes, the acrylic textile ink comes in a plastic jar and is itself a kind of plastic, but any tee shirts would have been printed with similar ink, whether ordered from a tee shirt company or printed by hand.)
2. Provide durable dishes, cutlery, and glasses.
If people don’t bring their own foodware, or if you don’t want to ask them to, it’s easy to provide durable, washable dishes.
You can go all out, like the Reuse Alliance’s ReUseConex in Portland, Oregon, last year, where all the foodware was reusable and the spread was amazing.
Or keep it simple and provide finger foods with reusable mugs from thrift shops. That is what Save Our Shores did at their event a few weeks ago. More on that later.
3. Charge a fee for compostable paper cups.
Although Green Sangha asked attendees to bring their own mugs, the organizers did provide compostable paper cups for those who had forgotten. The key was that they charged $1 donation for each cup. That donation not only benefits the organization but hopefully will encourage people to remember to bring their own next time. (Note: the compostable paper cups contain a corn-based plastic lining rather than a polyethylene lining like most paper cups. They are not perfect, but better than plastic cups. Another alternative are cups made entirely from plant fibers with no lining. )
4. Provide filtered tap water.
At all the events I’ve attended recently, water was provided in bulk containers rather than plastic bottles. Containers were glass or metal or plastic. (Life Without Plastic makes a cool stainless steel bulk water container.) Green Sangha provided water from U.S. Pure Water, which came to the event and set up its water bar filtration system in the venue’s kitchen.
5. Provide zero waste or plastic-free food.
Save Our Shores‘s Marina Maze shopped the bulk bins at Whole Foods to provide food for my plastic-free talk in Santa Cruz last week. No one thought to take a picture of the spread, so this photo of Marina shopping for the event will have to do. Marina said:
We purchased bulk almonds and put them in an old aluminum cookie can. Bulk dried cranberries and put them in an old glass honey jar. Bulk yogurt covered pretzels we put in an old glass spaghetti sauce jar. Tangerines from the produce section, no plastic bag necessary :). 2 loafs of bread in paper sleeves (the only waste we created). Lastly we ground fresh peanut butter and put it in an old glass applesauce jar.
It was so easy to get it all plastic free! Just takes a bit more planning.
6. Save paper by finding multiple uses for each sheet.
In addition to the ingenious tee shirt idea, the organizers of the Zero Waste Youth Convergence figured out a way to give everyone name tags and also make sure they held into their program agenda. They printed the agenda on the back of each fold-out name tag. I think this is a really cool idea.
7. Collect plastic name badge holders to reuse.
I know you were wondering about that plastic name tag holder and wondering if I had gone nuts. But if organizations would just make a point of collecting them at the end of events instead of letting people walk off with them (people who really don’t want them anyway but just forget to take them off), then they could be used over and over again for future events. I try to remember to give mine back at whatever event I go to, but it’s nice when the organizers, like those at the Zero Waste Youth Convergence, plan for it.
There are just a few of the steps organizations and individuals can take to reduce waste when planning events. I plan to use this post as an example for organizers who would like to schedule a plastic-free talk in the future. What is missing from this list? What strategies do you use to reduce plastic or waste at large gatherings or public events?