No need to waste

By: Tim Nel

The striking thing about events is the impact that they have on the environment, and the amount of waste that they generate. Of course with events of any scale (be they short meetings or massive music festivals) there are many significant factors which impact the environment such as transport, printing of marketing materials, and electricity usage to name a few. It is of concern when after an event such as an outdoor festival, you can hardly see the ground for the plastic cups, cans, bottles and cigarette butts covering it.

Although recycling is an admirable and effective means of dealing with the problem, the ultimate solution is to reduce the amount of materials used as well as to use more eco-friendly materials. There is a wide variety of products and packaging used at events, making the scope for potential changes huge. Some of the items central to most events can possibly be sourced or produced in a way which reduces pressure on the environment. The list below highlights some of the basic areas which should be considered:


Plastic cups are supplied in vast quantities at events – at refreshment stations, at the bar or at water coolers. These could be replaced with paper cups. For indoor events such as conferences or exhibitions, glass bottles may be a better solution. In addition, it is the organiser’s responsibility to ensure that cool drinks are available in tin cans or glass bottles, not only in plastic bottles. At least then it is up to the consumer to make a choice instead of being subjected to a limited and environmentally-harmful selection of packaging.


Without even considering the sourcing and quality of the food, the packaging is vitality important when it comes to waste reduction. Again, walking past a dustbin overflowing with polystyrene food boxes is very disappointing. There is no way of cleaning the packaging which leaves them in the realm of contaminated, unrecyclable waste. Due to the fact that events are by definition temporary, these meals were probably bought and consumed within 30 minutes, making the need for such packaging unnecessary. It would be encouraging to see food providers at events serving their dishes with a system of returnable plates and cutlery. Of course, many challenges would be encountered, but this is important when looking at the future of green events. If packaging is unavoidable, perhaps biodegradable or compostable materials could be used, especially considering that most meals and beverages will be consumed shortly after purchase.

The collection and management of food waste is also a very important aspect to consider. Separating food waste from ordinary waste leads to a reduction in the generation of greenhouse gases as well as less recyclable material being contaminated. It also results in a large amount of compostable material. There are also companies which manage the distribution of leftover food (instead of disposing of it) – another socially responsible practice.


Most venues encourage or force visitors to smoke in designated areas, but it is very difficult to control the disposal of cigarette butts. The organisers of Rocking the Daisies use a very clever scheme whereby cigarette butts collected may be exchanged for a drink at the bar. This is a great example of incentivising more sustainable festival and event practices. Some outdoor festivals even supply containers which visitors can carry with them to use as a personal cigarette butt disposal kit.

Exhibitor/visitor packs

When it comes to exhibitions or conferences, there may be a better way to display visitor badges without using lanyards and plastic sleeves. Most of these are discarded after the event and form another source of waste. Lanyards could quite easily be made using natural materials and perhaps plastic sleeves are not necessary. Some organisers do collect the above items at the door from visitors who are leaving – it would be ideal if these could be re-used at events to come.

Promotional materials

With regard to exhibitions, many companies go the route of giving away promotional materials. Perhaps organisers could offer exhibitors the option of purchasing and branding more environmentally-friendly products such as bags made from recyclable materials or pens made from paper. Both of these products have been used by the Event Greening Forum and we have received fantastic feedback from countless visitors.

There are many people and many different industries involved in events. It is a significant challenge trying to convince all of the relevant parties to move towards more sustainable practices. A very important element in bringing about these changes is encouragement. This doesn’t need to be an uphill battle. With a positive attitude and confidence, it is possible to guide and show event organisers and goers that shifting to greener practices is possible and beneficial. A good way to start this process is by providing simple information about the event’s greening activities, providing signage at the event directing people to the ‘green’ products and services mentioned above, and even making announcements or offering incentives to encourage more conscious behaviour at events.


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