Recycling has come a long way since the mid 80’s when the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” slogan became the official chant of the green movement. Today there are beautiful receptacles for glass, plastic, paper, aluminum and compost that can be found in universities, shopping centers and convention centers across the globe. Responsible waste management and recycling is easier than ever, but if it is all so easy now, why aren’t we seeing more meaningful change and massive reductions of the environmental impacts of waste?
In the hospitality and events industry we are seeing an increasing number of meeting and event professionals incorporate sustainability practices in the events they organize, the facilities they operate and with the products and services they supply. Consumers and attendees have come to expect a certain level and responsibility from the hotels they stay in to the events they attend. However, what event organizers and suppliers may not realize is that in order for the event to truly be sustainable or for facility operations to truly reduce their impacts, it isn’t the financial commitment to resources, it is the commitment to make thoughtful choices, informed purchasing decisions and to providing training to employees and staff who will help execute operational change effectively over time.
The nature of event venues is to accommodate a vast array of events, shows and meetings, which in turn means they must accommodate the disposal of a diverse make up of waste materials from these shows. By creating an active ongoing waste program that accommodates the diversion of a large array of materials, including easily recycled materials such as paper and plastic to more challenging items like construction and waste debris or carpet, venues can positively impact the meetings world. On going programs mean that staff can learn and improve upon the waste management process over time, and avoid the challenges that arise when trying to implement programs on an event-by-event basis which causes confusion, including different materials showing up in the waste stream and thus increases the likelihood of operational ‘mistakes’ of waste stream contamination.
Waste bins, their presence and design send the message to event organizers about level of commitment a convention center or hotel has towards responsible waste management. Having the bins is a great start but having a program to help support the management of waste is key. “Know the Code” is a program developed by the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington D.C. for their color coded recycling and waste minimization program. The holistic approach to waste management helps staff and event attendees understand and process the waste streams and has lead to higher waste diversion rates over time.
According to respondents of the 2014 Green Venue Report, a study that reports on the state of global convention and exhibition center sustainability, venues are committing to putting responsibility back on event organizers for the materials they bring into the center and for encouraging attendees to participate in responsible waste management. Thirty-one percent (31%) of responding centers now offer specific financial incentives for planners to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills. Incentives included not charging or offering reduced fees for recycling and compost hauling and charging for landfill hauls only.
Mike Dziurgot, Director of Operations at the Anaheim Convention Center, which boasts an impressive annual diversion rate of 72% said “One of the most significant ways event vendors can improve sustainability here is specifically the cleaning contractors hired by the General Service Contractors to remove exhibitor waste during the event. If they would train and commit their staff to better waste separation practices onsite that could really help improve our overall diversion rate and increase our recycling revenue.”
Over thirty years later companies, venues, people and industries are still working on how to best “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle”. We applaud the innovations and products out there making it easier than ever to do so, however, in the end, it is the commitment to programs and practices, investing in the people on the ground to execute and make lasting and significant change.