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Sustainability spotlight: How to reduce plastic use at your next event

The stats on plastic pollution paint a scary picture about the impact it is having on the planet. For example, 8 million tons of plastic enters the ocean every single year, and only 14% of the world’s plastic packaging is actively recycled - resulting in about 83% of the world’s drinking water containing plastic fibre. With these in mind, it’s never been more essential for conference and events spaces and their organisers to work together to try and reduce single-use plastics for their events.

The hospitality sector has been identified as one of the biggest offenders when it comes to being sustainable, thanks to the size of the industry and its extensive use of single-use plastic products. Venues can make green changes themselves and, indeed, many of the leading names in Leeds are introducing more environmentally friendly practices to their businesses as we speak. To support this sustainability drive, ConferenceLeeds has identified front-runners in the reduction of single-use plastics, and also provided a short and simple list of ways in which event organisers and delegates can do their bit to help make their event greener!

One of the most ethically conscious events spaces in Leeds to date is the conference and meeting space is SHINE based on Harehills Road in Leeds. SHINE have been going green across all areas of their business to help staff, visitors and delegates reduce their carbon footprint for some time. As part of this, SHINE have initiated a no plastic policy that has replaced environment damaging products with more environmentally friendly alternatives, including glass bottles, proper silverware, recyclable green packaging, recycled pencils and paper sourced from sustainable forests. These noticeable changes are the first of many the venue is hoping to make, with its next aim to use a 100% renewable energy source and to generate excess power to share with the local area across the next few years.

The academic venues in Leeds have also announced widespread support of this movement, with The University of Leeds at the forefront. Late in 2018, MEETinLEEDS announced The University of Leeds’ commitment to stop using single-use plastic on campus by 2023. This commitment expands from the student services, such as the student union and the lecture halls, through into the conferencing events and arenas. One initiative at the forefront of this journey is the change from the catering services providing single-use cups, opting instead to replace these with biodegradable and reusable cups - including paper cups and vegware cups.

Launching its Single Out: 2023PlasticFree campaign, the University said it was also researching methods to "produce the next generation of biodegradable bioplastics - plastics derived from renewable biomass that will break down quickly and safely once disposed". Therefore, Leeds’ venues are not only making commitments to be more sustainable, but may also be ahead of the curve in terms of new ways for the UK to reduce waste overall.

Following in the footsteps of these venues, how can organisers ensure that they are working to reduce single-use plastics in their next event? ConferenceLeeds has a few handy tips below!

Make sure your delegates know
If you are going to implement plastic waste reduction strategies into your meeting, why not let your delegates know? Often, they will appreciate knowing that the event that they are attending has taken measures to become more sustainable. Whether you highlight the steps you are taking prior to the event in a marketing email or social media posts, or you set up posters around the venue to explain why you have used certain items, such as ceramic cups, for example, it will help delegates understand the commitments you and the venue have made together to go green.

Check your venue’s credentials!
When taking part in the venue selection process for an event that you’d like to make greener, make sure you request information on the venue’s recycling and waste reduction programmes up front. That helps to let the venue’s sales team know that you’re looking for a sustainable partner and ensure that they are able to add in any initiatives they have on environmental responsibility for consideration in the selection process.

Ditch the bottled water
This one may seem simple, but it can often be an impactful change. As an organiser, if you ask the venue not to put plastic water bottles on every beverage station or bar, you will save money on event costs and also be helping to contribute towards the movement to reduce or eliminate single-use plastics. Plastic bottles and straws are key components in this issue, and delegates are far more aware of this now than they ever have been before - so making the switch to glassware will be greatly received.

Ban disposable cups too!
Often, venues will put out both disposable and ceramic coffee cups during an event. It’s a really simple change to ask the venue to forgo the disposable cups, and allow delegates to use ceramic ones or make the most of their own reusable cups, which many now carry to use at the large coffee chains, who are also taking similar steps. You could even encourage delegates in your pre-conference information to bring their own reusable cups with them!

Recycle soft plastic packaging
It’s a simple rule to employ - but if it can be recycled, then recycle it! One of the most prominent recyclable items from an exhibition or event is a small soft-plastic bag, often used for wrapping give-aways or items which appear in goody bags. Venues will often have several large recycling bins in which you can put these plastics, ensuring that they are recycled and reused.

Finish your event with a ‘waste patrol’
Whether a tradeshow or a smaller conference or event, you often have little control over the amount of packing and waste products are brought in by your exhibitors or delegates, but you can work with the venue to set up a clearly labelled and comprehensive recycling and sorting area after the conference for when the team are clearing up at the end. This will go a long way towards actively encouraging your delegates to recycle their waste responsibly, and reduce the overall amount of unrecycled plastic waste left at the end of the event.

Do you have any of your own tips to share? Let us know on twitter @ConferenceLeeds!