A life free from plastic.
Did you know that we produce 400 million tonnes of plastic every year? It’s crazy to think how much we encounter plastic in our day-to-day lives, and we probably don’t even realise it. It’s literally everywhere - your keyboard and mouse, dental floss, TV controller, juice cartons, those little balls in your face wash, and even your clothes contain plastic.
As early as 1862, Alexander Parkes discovered the first semi-synthetic ‘plastic’, Parkesine. Although the name wasn’t catchy, it was a huge success. The manufacturing industry cheered with joy at this new game-changing material.
It meant that natural resources and animal-derived materials such as ivory, horn and shell were no longer in high demand. At the time, elephants and turtles were on the brink of extinction 🐘 🐢🦏 so the introduction of plastic was a force for good when it was first created. Unfortunately, as time has passed, it has turned into a bit of a double-edged sword.
Sorry, Barbie, we disagree; “Life in plastic is not fantastic.”
Although the creation of plastic solved many issues and meant industries have flourished over the decades, little did we know it was causing devastation across the globe. Because of its composition, plastic doesn’t degrade like natural substances do. It slowly wears down into smaller little bits and never really disappears. So, with 14 million tonnes of plastic ending up in our Oceans each year, we have quite a problem on our hands. Experts from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation predict by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish (by weight).
“There’s plenty more fish plastic in the sea.”
We don’t mean to sound too preachy (because no business is perfect in this area), but as experience-makers who influence and inspire global audiences, change begins with us. And with the UK Government soon introducing a single-use plastic ban for businesses (October 2023), it’s time for us all to step up our efforts another notch.
To begin with, all it needs is some mindful, educated decisions. So, to help nudge us all along into a greener future, here are some top tips to help make your events and experiences eco-friendly and plastic-free.
Location, location, location.
A venue that will work to make your plastic-free dream come true (rather than try to lure you to the dark side with cheaper alternatives) will make life easier. Simple things like serving all F&B in reusable crockery, using cloth or paper, compostable napkins, providing water fountains and having proper waste management practices in place are a great start.
We are big fans of Convene, who are taking a serious sustainable approach in all their worldwide locations. Not only are their flexible events space hella-cool, but they’re also environmentally and ergonomically friendly. If you’ve not done so already, check them out.
The Three R’s - reuse, recycle and repurpose.
This should be your guiding principle and applies to pretty much everything. If reusable isn’t an option, make sure it’s recyclable or, even better, compostable.
Compostable plates, seed packet badges and plantable pencils are all nifty ideas that raise awareness and help fight our plastic plight. They’ll also be a great talking point and provide a buzz (geddit?! 🐝). If you’re not able to provide readily available tap water and reusable bottles, perhaps you could switch to recyclable cardboard water cartons to keep people hydrated.
Lanyards and name badge holders can be useful for networking and data collection – thousands are used daily. But, what happens to when the day ends? Potentially, that’s a lot of plastic going into landfill. As a solution, it’s becoming common that names are printed onto recycled, recyclable paper using environmentally friendly, non-toxic ink and the lanyards are returned at the end of the day to be reused time and time again. It’s a problem sort of solved, as it’s still a lot of unnecessary waste.
If you’re working with a sustainably minded venue, then proper waste management and recycling should already be in place, but just don’t take it for granted. Ask about the systems they have and find out how you can work together to make further improvements.
Another top tip is to hire as much as you can. Before you rush out to buy something, think first. Hiring kit is sometimes seen as a more expensive option, but in reality, once you’ve bought an item for one-time use and then paid for storage or disposal, it doesn’t work out more cost-effective. Hiring also means less waste. Sharing = caring.
Thankfully, the days when you leave a conference or exhibition with a bag full of leaflets and brochures are long gone.😅 Email event invites, confirmations and news updates are an obvious way to go digital, however, as technology progresses, we could further embrace the digital world.
Event apps aren’t necessarily a new thing, but they're becoming more integrated to enhance the delegate experience. Use apps to send agenda-related push notifications, create digital event maps, book meetings, provide supplier information, and offer vouchers – anything and everything can be easily found at your attendees' fingertips. Above, we mentioned recyclable paper name tags and reusable lanyards... if you go digital, you can do away with them altogether by QR codes with the app.
Banners and signage are traditionally printed on plastic-based materials. Yes, there are recyclable options out there, but most of the time they get used once and thrown away. Digital signage is the way forward for a long-term reusable piece of kit. You can create eye-catching videos and animation to increase engagement - and for those prone to changing their minds often - they can be updated much quicker than a reprint. Many venues now offer digital signage facilities, so there’s also barely any cost involved - result!
And all that swag.
To swag, or not to swag? That is the question. And, it’s a tricky one to answer.
Brands love getting their logo out there and a small, branded memento is a great way to do it. A swag gift appeals to the instant gratification marshmallow moment. As a society, we love a freebie! But, usually down to cost and mass production, these little giveaways tend to be cheap, plastic, unwanted and, dare we say it, often a little tacky 🙊.
Some designers have, however, embraced the plastic-free mission, and far more choice is available. Bamboo is fast becoming the swag saviour. It's malleable, hard-wearing, biodegradable, sustainable, and best of all, it doesn’t harm the pandas 🐼.
We also love the idea of handing out branded reusable water bottles upon arrival. This encourages the adoption of multi-use drink bottles, which can come in handy in everyday life, resulting in more overall brand visibility than a stress ball. So, we think yes, “to swag” is the answer. Just do it with good reason and use high-quality products people will use again and again.
Alternatively, you could always 'Swag For Good'. You could champion change by using branded merchandise budget on giving back to the community or environment. The list of ways to give back is endless. Perhaps offer personal development opportunities to attendees, or you could donate to your chosen charity, or plant a tree in honour of each attendee.
So, there you have it, a few easy wins you can adopt in your event planning immediately. Let's channel our inner eco-warriors, try to be more mindful and seek solutions to our challenges that make sense. Together our industry can make a big difference, we just need to try harder.