Making More Connections While Making Less Trash: A Conference Experiment

If you’ve read some of my other blog posts, then you’ll know that I’ve been trying to take a good hard look at the trash I make, and how I can mindfully reduce my eco-footprint. To name a few of the ways that I’ve been attempting this: I’ve been buying less clothes, saying “no straw please” when I’m at a restaurant, bringing my own containers to fill up at the grocery store bulk section, and using reusable bags, coffee cups, water bottles, etc. I’m nowhere near perfect with this. I can’t turn down a DQ Blizzard run, I use plastic bags in the bulk section when the grocery store workers look at me like I’m insane with my mason jars, and half the time when I say “no straw please”, the waiter/waitress still brings my drink with a straw out of habit. Alas! It’s a start.

The first step in trying to cut down on your day to day trash, is realizing what is causing all that trash in the first place. So with this in mind, I decided to do a little experiment to be conscious about how little (or how much) trash I made at a conference I recently attended. I didn’t want to be so strict with it that I wreck the conference experience for myself (which was AMAZING, btw), but I wanted to identify a few things:

  • How much trash was actually created on an individual level at a conference
  • What I could do better in the future once I was consciously aware of that trash
  • What steps organizers could take to improve their eco-footprints

To start off on the right track, I thought through some ways I could easily cut down on waste the morning of. I knew I’d want some caffeine as soon as I got there (because ew, conferences start so early), so I filled my reusable water bottle, and brought a reusable travel mug filled with my favourite tea. Because I didn’t want to be double fisting dranks all day, I brought a tote bag to put them in, but it turns out I needed that anyways to carry things like a notebook, and an extra change of clothes for an evening event. This took a little extra thought, but ended up saving me quite a few plastic water bottles and disposable coffee cups (which aren’t actually recyclable because of their waxy lining).

Getting to the Conference

So I have to say guys, I was actually SUPER pleasantly surprised with the conference on the enviro-level. I expected to have to ward off swag bags like a vampire as I entered the building, but… they didn’t have any of that. Some people may have thought “wow, where the free stuff at?”, but I appreciated the lack of clutter.

gift-brown-shopping-market

A few other things they did that made me give a silent nod of approval to the eco-nerd gods:

  • Water re-fill stations were offered with real glasses to use
  • They had tea/coffee stations with real cups, and real spoons
  • They encouraged attendees to look at the event schedule on their phone’s and tried to talk people out of taking physical paper schedules

You go, conference organizers! Maybe I didn’t need to bring my own reusable digs after all, and I think that’s kind of cool.

But how did I do on a personal level, BESIDES the above?

So-so, I would say. Again, I wasn’t trying to shame myself or others in this experiment, but wanted to be aware of my conference trash situation.

Here’s some ways that I made trash:

  • Drank a coke each day… because long days and low blood sugar make me think sugary drinks cure everything. While the cans are recyclable, they are most definitely avoidable
  • Took a small cardboard “phone stand” from a guy looking horribly bored at a booth. I still don’t know when I would use this, and it actually disappeared in my tote bag (Mary Poppins black hole alert).
  • Asked for no straw with my drink at lunch. She still brought a straw
  • Took lunch to go in a cardboard box
  • Ate a bag of popcorn in a bag (that could have been composted… if there was a bin)
  • Probably a bunch of other stuff I’m forgetting

pexels-photo-225236

As you can see, it’s easy for trash to add up, even after being conscious of my choices. I know of a lot of ways I can do better next time, but what could this conference do differently to make it easier on participants? There’s a few things I could think of, but for brevity, here’s the biggest and most impactful one:

Offer more bins!

There was garbage cans, and recycling JUST for drink containers. If there were recycling bins for different things (like my to-go container (whoops)), and compost bins for food and things like the popcorn bags (since the paper is compostable), I would have made a fraction of the trash.

With this in mind, I’ve planned conferences, and I get it. That part of the equation is the smallest in the grand scheme of things (especially if that’s not the focus of the event), but I truly think it needs to be part of the conversation from now on. Because one person’s impact may not seem like much, but does it add up when there’s 200+ people there? You better believe it. What do you think?

 

 

 

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