By Toby Hutcheon, Boomerang Alliance Campaigns Manager
This article is adapted from the Boomerang Alliance 'Plastic Free Council and Community Event Guidelines' (click to download). For the LGAQ endorsed version of these guidelines for Qld councils, click HERE.
THE PROBLEM WITH PLASTICS AT EVENTS
Plastic pollution generated from public events can be a major cause of environmental degradation, species decline and potential human health impacts.
Plastic litter is an eyesore and contaminates our open and public places, negating the positive experience of these events.
Single-use, disposable plastics are a waste of resources and do not align with the values of sustainable events.
Plastics derived from non-renewable sources such as fossil fuels contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, and event organisers have a responsibility to protect our environment.
Plastics persist in landfill and the environment and pose a problem for future generations, and event organisers have a responsibility to reduce the amount of waste generated.
PLASTIC FREE EVENT PRINCIPLES
Commitment to inform and educate stakeholders and the public about your plastic-free event. Identify clear expectations of stallholders to avoid the use of identified single-use plastic items at council-run events.
Clearly identify single-use plastic items that should be avoided or replaced and outline recommended alternative products. These should either be reusable or 100% compostable (compliant with australian composting standards).
Manage the collection of discarded materials through a three-bin system (recycle, organics, waste). Where these services do not exist, use a two-bin system (recycle and waste). Container refund schemes (if available) provide an incentive for a separate drink container collection.
Enhance the reputation of the event by ensuring the site is free from litter.
Minimise contamination and reduce waste collection costs by keeping disposal options together and providing clear signage that addresses and advises on avoiding items being put in the wrong bin. Where possible, arrange volunteers to monitor bins and provide assistance and guidance to event patrons.
Ensure all waste streams are serviced appropriately. Investigate commercial composting, container refund collection and re-use service opportunities.
Monitor and evaluate the impact of plastic-free events through efficient data collection to measure performance and practices at events.
Promote council policies to other events and encourage their adoption by including council requirements for events on council land and for council-funded events to be plastic free.
MANAGING A PLASTIC-FREE EVENT
Informed and aware staff and volunteers, vendors and suppliers who understand the policies and can educate the community.
Supply chain control of disposable plastic items and packaging used or supplied on site.
Establish a consistent and easy to use bin system for discarded items.
Plan for the collection of recyclable or compostable materials and include a site clean-up protocol in the event plan.
Involve the event team in continuous improvement to further reduce waste and increase recyclable and compostable materials.
Guidelines in Practice:
As a first step, focus on eliminating the six single-use plastic items that are most often littered and found in the waste stream. These are water bottles, coffee cups and lids, straws, food ware (cups, plates, cutlery etc.), takeaway containers, and plastic bags.
Do not allow the release of helium-filled balloons. A practical way to avoid them would be to prohibit their use and recommend alternative decorative items or commemorative activities.
All food and drink vendors should be required to provide only reusable or 100% compostable food ware (cutlery, plates, containers, cups etc) to the public.
Include specific requirements in any contracts or arrangements with vendors. Vendors should be informed of policies and why they have been adopted. This should also apply to franchise vendors. Compostable food ware should meet either the as 4736 (commercial compost standard) or the as 5810 (home compost standard). These are australian standards recommended by the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation (APCO). Products are readily available from suppliers.
Provide adequate, clearly signed water bubblers or portable water stations and encourage the use of refillable water bottles. These can avoid plastic water bottles being used. Consider accessibility by children and those with mobility aids.
Consider using refillable drinkware, where possible. A refillable system for alcohol and soft drinks involves the public purchasing (or providing a deposit) and keeping a cup for the event. No drinks can be served without a refillable cup. These can be replaced each time if desired. Refillable containers could be branded and used repeatedly at council events.
Where refillables are not provided, events should provide drinks in either aluminium cans, glass bottles or certified compostable containers (subject to local regulations for container use at events).
Promote the event as plastic-free. Educate staff, volunteers, vendors and suppliers about the plastic-free agenda.
Promotional materials provided by event organisers, vendors, performers etc. Should be reusable, recyclable or compostable for consistency.
A collection service for beverage containers should be provided if a container refund scheme is available. We suggest council arrange for a local not-for-profit group to receive the refund.
Arrange for waste collectors to transport waste to appropriate facilities. Note that in some regions, where a commercial composter is not available, it will not be possible to compost. It is still advisable to follow a plastic free practice as this demonstrates a commitment to reducing plastic pollution in the environment if the event generates litter. This also prepares stallholders and the public for when established in future.
Event organisers should ensure their office and back of house practices meet the above requirements and avoid the use of single-use plastics to the best of their ability. This should include any on-site facilities (i.e. toilets) or crowd controls (i.e. plastic film to cover fencing).
We recommend the engagement of an on-site waste manager, particularly for larger events or where litter and waste management may be challenging.
Material collection stations should focus on a three-bin system for compost, recycling and waste, subject to composting services being available.
Clear signage is essential, pictures are most useful. To ensure correct use it is advisable to place volunteers at bin stations to show the correct usage and ensure effective and timely collection of full bins.
Data collection is essential to monitor performance and improve services. It is recommended that data is kept on quantities of materials sent for recycling, composting and waste. Your waste collectors should be able to provide this data. Monitoring compliance by vendors is important too. Surveys of public understanding will improve collection services, signage and public education programs.
Seven Steps to a Plastic-Free Event
Advertise and promote the event as plastic-free.
Require all vendors to supply only reusable or 100% compostable food ware (Australian standard or equivalent) to their customers at the event (plates, cups, utensils, containers etc.). Do not allow helium balloons to be used or released.
Provide a water station or water refill points on site for refillable bottles.
Provide recycling, composting (where applicable) and waste bins on site.
Good and clear signage is essential. Ideally provide bin monitors to explain how the system works.
Arrange for your waste service to transport collected materials to appropriate facilities and provide waste data.
Review data and management arrangements on the plastic-free outcomes and set new improved requirements for future events.
Photo credit: Tourism Noosa