Martin Cottrell, A1 Event & Exhibition Cleaners MD and ESSA board member, discusses waste challenges at events.
Sustainability for exhibitions has come along way since it was the subject on everyone’s lips a few years ago. We now have national standards, procedures and frameworks in place to manage much of the waste produced by an exhibition.
The sustainability of an event has even moved beyond the management of waste streams to encompass wider aspects of sustainability, taking into account the carbon footprint of an exhibition in terms of exhibitors and visitors, all wrapped up in the financial sustainability of the entire show.
This is a huge move forwards from where the exhibition industry was a mere ten years ago. But there is still too much assumed knowledge in the industry regarding what is sustainable, much of which is probably out of date.
A good reason for best practice is separating waste streams.
This can have significant cost differences between them when they are collected by the waste contractor, up to 30 per cent depending upon how dry waste is separated from residual waste.
Understanding that once waste is placed in a bin it becomes a commodity for waste handling companies, is important in understanding how important correct segregation is to the waste management companies. They will buy and sell the waste output as a commodity – wood, metals, glass, cardboard and plastics – different waste costs need to be budgeted, and if managed correctly, they can make great savings.
However, not all venues are created equal, separating waste streams requires space, equipment and the availability of an appropriate waste management capability in the locality.
Sustainability is really about accepting practicalities, determined by value of waste streams, type of event, space available on site and the recycling provision located close to the event.
It could be more economical to leave dry waste as mixed, and allow the separation to occur at a waste management facility or MRF where there is likely to be mechanical separation processed as well as hand separation.
Understanding how your waste is handled and managed after it leaves your event could offer you some significant cost savings and may help you put processes and procedure in place to minimise the cost of waste disposal.
One of the biggest waste challenges faced by exhibitions is the general public. It has, for decades, been conditioned to put waste into bins and not to drop litter. This is something that overrides the fact that the bin they are about to put their lunchtime waste into may not be the correct one and by putting unsuitable waste into the wrong bin, it will contaminate the contents of the bin, thus rendering it not recyclable.
The public understanding of what can and cannot be recycled still needs to be improved, as well as the importance of using the correct bins.
As more and more organisations move over to sustainability standards such as ISO & BS they will need to be fully aware of how the behaviour of the public towards waste will affect its ultimate disposal.
We have come a long way in our management of the waste created by exhibitions; it has spurred some very creative solutions and become a core part of how we manage our industry. But, the job is not over, we need to keep pressing forward and we need to make exhibition visitors aware of the importance of their role in making exhibitions as sustainable as possible.