Blog: Disposable plastic is so yesterday

Kambe Events says the events industry needs to get behind the future of plastic use at events.

The sentiment in San Francisco, the first city to ban the sale of plastic bottles at public events was: “We had big public events for decades without plastic bottles and we’ll do fine without them again,” Joshua Arce, chairman of the Commission on the Environment said.

From bottles and cups to polystyrene takeaway boxes, single-use plastic epitomises the throwaway culture that creates overflowing bins and littered dance floors that make the headlines after the festival crowd has left the main arena, whilst the event organiser is left with a significant clear-up job.

In the Green Manifesto Survey of 49 festival organisers (May 2015), waste and landfill were identified as key issues for festival organisers. So how can tackling plastic use help the overall amount of waste onsite? Here’s a few options to consider:

Refill stations

Many festivals are using water charities to support the dispensing of water to the audience in addition to taps. A mobile water dispenser or stall situated near to the main arena can be a way of managing water demand without ending up with a great swamp near the main area.

Frank Water have taken their Freefill service to six major festivals: Womad, End of the Road, Larmer Tree, Shambala and Cornbury, where their hand-pumped mobile trailer has proved quite a hit with audiences.

Reusable Cups

The presence of reusable cups at events in the UK has really taken off this year, especially at major sports event such as the Rugby World Cup. Whilst still way behind France and other countries, the numbers and range of events and venues speak for themselves. The levy and deposit models provide a revenue for the event which makes it an attractive environmental initiative, and there are branding opportunities also.

French company Ecocup, have produced 700,000 pint cups for the UK Festival Market and another 700,000 for the Rugby World Cup (RWC) compared to 400,000 in 2014. To date they have washed 250,000 cups this year, 500,000 after the RWC. It is estimated this will save 50 tonnes of disposable cups in 2015 so far.

The UK based reusable cup providers are growing their market share too; Green Goblet have worked with over 50 events and festivals this year as well as football, cricket and rugby clubs. Membership clubs typically dispose of over 250,000 single-use cups in a season.

With the levy option Stack-Cup expect a 60-70% retention of cups by event attendees. They introduced the reusable cups and their onsite washing facility to Green Man this year. The event usually uses 250,000 cups, however this year 42,000 stack-cups replaced them, and only 5,000 were left on site. The retention rate was 86%.

Compostable and bio-plastics

The benefit of PLA based plastics vs oil-based plastics is that they have a significantly lower embodied carbon content. Whilst these can seem like a great solution, it is worth noting that like all natural materials, they will not compost or biodegrade in landfill (the conditions do not allow any natural material breakdown). You will need to check with your local composting or anaerobic digester facility if they accept them. The Food Waste Network can provide this information.

The other problem is that services are not consistent around the country, and they tend to cause confusion with audiences – do they go in the plastic or the compost bin? This often leads to contamination of both according to waste contractors, meaning that we are worse off in environmental terms.

[picture credit: Owen Tetley]