Want to turn your event’s waste plastic into something useful and profitable? Then you need to talk to Michael.
Over the autumn I attended two exhibitions at the NEC and one outdoors, where sustainability was the big theme. So I was extremely surprised to be greeted with the all too familiar ‘sponsored’ plastic bag to collect all the paper and other materials I might be offered as I wandered around.
Instead of declining, I accepted the bags and decided to ask the event organisers and the advertisers on the bags about the irony of using them at the events.
As you might expect, the answers were pretty predictable: “They were made from recycled materials”/“they were recyclable”/ and “this is a normal way of generating revenue at events.” But I wasn’t happy with that.
The three bags were not only obviously made of virgin plastic and not easy to recycle, most exhibitors have digital information available on their stands and therefore no longer rely on plastic bags to generate revenue or to advertise their products.
Perhaps not surprisingly, all three sponsors were uncomfortable at being challenged about this.
One was annoyed. One was dismissive. The only consolation was that the third seemed ashamed to admit it hadn’t even occurred to him.
I was pleased to have made some kind of impact on that person but disappointed to realise the others just didn’t get it – or didn’t want to.
But ultimately their answers worried me and drove me on to look into this further. There seems to be global, blind belief that all is well if you can say something is ‘recycled’ but what does that actually mean?
Many event organisers say their recycling targets are being met and are proud of their achievements. But do they know what happens next in the chain? How much waste is still just incinerated, buried or baled off for someone else to deal with? I decided to find out.
After visiting two recycling centres I was pleased to see the efforts being made to achieve a zero landfill policy. These are large scale operations separating everything that arrives in never-ending convoys.
I could imagine the event plastic bags arriving there mixed with all the other types of one-off use materials. I found a plastic bag, though not one I was looking for, and tracked its journey through separation into shredding with similar material, before ending up as small flakes which were bagged up.
But what was really known about these tiny, unremarkable flakes? What were their chemical properties and other additive substances when all mixed up together?
They were of a general type (LDPE 4) but not consistent because there was not just one manufacturer involved – each product type had its specific purpose and labelling.
What would then happen to these flakes? Perhaps they were destined to become plastic bags again? But surely the cost of that would completely cancel out the proposition that they had been responsibly made?
So here is the challenge going forward as I see it: The problem isn’t just to stop so many plastic bags being produced in the first place, it’s also finding a better reuse for the abundance of all waste plastics. And this solution has to make financial sense.
Here at Above All C6(n) we work with brands and companies who are frustrated and angry that there aren’t any real options that address sustainability for the indoor or outdoor structures they use for events, accommodation or buildings. Typically we are asked to design a modular building system out of waste or recycled plastics for our clients’ needs which solves their dissatisfaction of plastic waste and helps create a new revenue stream for their business.
If this sounds like you, tell us what your frustrations are and if we can help we will let you know.
If you, the readers, would like to know how it is possible to correlate event-waste into permanently useful products that will generate new revenue streams, I hope I will be asked to write the next article in this trilogy…
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