Julia Spangler is a sustainable events consultant who specializes in reducing and diverting waste at meetings and events. Julia helps organizations and event professionals reduce the environmental impact of their events in order to preserve our planet and deliver powerful sustainability stories.
Why Does Reducing Event Waste Matter?
It seems like a no-brainer that reducing waste from any source, including events, is the sustainable thing to do.
But do you know why reducing waste is sustainable?
In a country like the U.S. with robust waste management infrastructure, the issue isn’t rampant litter pollution or unsightly garbage piles. Most trash ends up in a landfill or incinerator, and these facilities are generally safely and professionally managed.
So why bother to reduce and divert event waste away from landfills and incinerators?
First, materials that end up in landfills and incinerators are missed opportunities. Many items that are thrown away are still usable, or are made of materials that could be recycled into new products. Even organic waste like food scraps and yard debris can be turned into nutrient-rich compost. Although some incinerators produce energy from burning trash, this is a less valuable form of reuse for many materials that could be put to higher use if they were collected separately.
Second, throwing items away drives the demand for new production and the extraction of new natural resources. It takes energy and natural resources to produce any of the supplies we use. The more times we reuse an item, the more those sunk costs are distributed, reducing the environmental cost per use. The longer we reuse our supplies, and the fewer supplies we use and throw away overall, the lower the demand is for the energy-intensive process of mining, farming or otherwise extracting resources from the earth, and manufacturing those materials into new products.
Third, waste disposal of any type generates greenhouse gas emissions. All waste disposal methods typically require hauling by vehicles, most of which are powered by fossil fuels. Both incineration and recycling require a lot of energy, again typically still supplied by fossil fuels. And landfills and compost piles both generate methane in varying amounts depending on how they are managed. Some landfills capture methane and turn it into energy, but most do not.
These three reasons are why it’s sustainable to reduce waste, and also to keep any waste we do generate out of landfills and incinerators if possible.
What does this mean for the meetings and events industry?
Meeting and event professionals should be mindful of the waste they generate and work toward the production of zero waste events.
What is a zero waste event?
A zero waste event successfully diverts 90 percent or more of its solid waste from landfills and incinerators. Alternate channels for waste often include reusing, recycling, composting and donating materials. A true zero waste event also actively reduces waste as much as possible, avoids the purchase of toxic or polluting products and seeks out recycled and sustainable versions of any necessary supplies.
For additional reading, the Zero Waste International Alliance provides excellent guidelines for the philosophy that should underlie a zero waste event.
By reducing and diverting waste at your events, you’ll keep useful materials in the economy, cut demand for natural resource extraction and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. With today’s growing audience of environmentally-conscious attendees, this powerful story will add tremendous value to your events.
November is sustainability month for us at CEN. We'll be bringing you even more content on sustainable practices within the meetings and events industry within the coming days.