Planning a Sustainable Council Event

A sustainable council event is one where there is careful planning to avoid and minimise waste, where there is an emphasis on the use of re-usable or recyclable products, and where discarded materials are separated and recycled or disposed of responsibly. These events are a method of raising public awareness about recycling and of show casing different ways to avoid and minimise waste. Additional benefits include the ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and post-event clean-up costs, conserve resources, and minimise litter.

Some of the most important things to consider when planning a sustainable council event include:

Stakeholder Buy-In – stakeholders are more likely to take the necessary actions to reduce waste at council events if they are aware of and engaged in the development of the waste management plan (i.e. who does what, when, how, and why). Their involvement in this plan helps to build confidence and strengthen commitment to the cause. A commitment statement can also be used as a more formal way of getting everyone on board and thereby achieving sustainability outcomes.

Education and Promotion – people will not change their behaviour if they don’t know what you are trying to achieve, how you are trying to achieve it, and why. Waste wise education and promotion therefore play a major role in the success of sustainable events and can be communicated through a variety of methods (pre- and post-event). These include workshops, multi-media awareness raising campaigns, event endorsement, newsletters, MC announcements and signage.

Packaging – minimising packaging is a fundamental component of waste avoidance at events, since packaging is typically the largest type of waste material generated. Event organisers must therefore consider what packaging, materials, brands or items are permitted or banned (e.g. single-use plastics), as well as the suppliers that are recommended or endorsed by the event. Councils, for example, may choose only to include stallholders and suppliers that are aligned with the event’s waste management objectives.

Inclusivity – transitioning away from single-use plastics presents a challenge for some members of the community. Plastic straws, for example, serve an essential role in the daily lives of some people with physical disabilities by helping them to eat and drink. Biodegradable plastic straws melt, and many of the other environmentally friendly straws don’t bend. A one-size-fits-all solution is therefore unlikely and other alternatives (e.g. exemptions, BYO utensils) must be considered.

Supply Chain and Cost – businesses who have recently received packaging orders may need to dispose of existing supplies and re-stock with compostable packaging. This might not be possible, at least immediately, for franchised businesses bound by packaging supply agreements negotiated by parent companies on a national or international basis. A phased introduction may lessen the financial impact and would give retailers time to adapt to the transition. Another option is to run an exchange or ‘Swap n Go’ initiative. City of Hobart, for example, recently allowed Salamanca market stallholders to swap non-compostable packaging in return for the equivalent of up to 250 paper bags.

Bins and Infrastructure – several questions will inevitably be raised in the preparation and implementation of sustainable council events. Specifically, how many bins of each waste type are required and where will they be placed? What signage is needed for the bins and how frequently will they be emptied? Council may want to consider bins for event patrons and for back of house (i.e. stallholders and event organisers) in an effort to reduce and target contamination across key stakeholders. Anecdotal evidence, for example, suggests that back of house staff may be less likely than patrons to use council bin systems correctly. Bin and waste monitors assist others to select the right bin when disposing waste at an event and could therefore be used to reduce contamination.

Post Event Decisions – hard work can literally go to waste at sustainable council events when consideration is not given to where the waste itself ends up. Some argue that compostable materials are better for the environment than conventional ones, even if both wind up in landfill, because the former are made from renewable resources. However, compostable materials will typically break down much more quickly when they land in the correct place (i.e. composting facilities). Thus, it is important for event organisers to appropriately treat waste in order to do earlier waste wise efforts justice.

Event Reporting and Evaluation – event reporting and evaluation can be used to determine if waste management efforts are going to plan (during the event) and if waste management efforts were successful (after the event). Feedback from event patrons and stallholders on the event’s waste management practices should be incorporated. This feedback might include what they found easy or difficult, or what their recommendations for improvement are. Councils, by collecting and reflecting on this information, are equipped to ensure that such events are even more successful in future.