Living Sustainably at a Conference

Did you know that plastic packaging accounts for over 40 percent of the total amount of plastic waste? It’s estimated that in 2015, around 55% of global plastic waste was discarded, 25% was incinerated, and 20% was recycled.

I’m from WBEC-East, and in Philadelphia, it is reported that up to HALF of what we put into our recycling bins is actually being incinerated for various reasons, including contamination, insufficient capacity, and the financial cost of recycling.

What this means to us, here at the conference, is that if you are using plastic packaging, and even if you think you’re doing the right thing by throwing plastic recycling into a recycling bin, chances are that it won’t even be recycled.

I could talk about this at length, but I want to focus on our everyday choices that can help limit the plastic we are producing here at the National Conference & Business Fair. It can be hard to focus on sustainability when we’re away from home and experiencing all of the opportunities that this conference has to offer — there’s barely time to sit down, and so many back-to-back events that we want to experience. However, with just a small amount of effort, you can help reduce your footprint on the environment by focusing on just a few small tweaks to what might be your current routine.

SO HERE ARE SOME CONCRETE STEPS:

  • WBENC’s Hydration and Coffee Cart have generously included both reusable coffee cups and reusable water bottles in your tote bags – so use them!  Baristas everywhere are generally fine with you handing them your cup when you order.  When you’re done, it’s easy to wash your cup out in the restroom or rinse in a water fountain. I did this all through Summit & Salute and it was never an issue. (Did you know that paper coffee cups are lined with plastic so they aren’t recyclable?  Even though your brain sees the cup and sees “paper”, it’s still also plastic.)

  • Skip the bag: Most of us are carrying big conference bags anyway, so if you purchase something from a food vendor or hotel/conference center store, there is no need to take a disposable bag. I generally find that every store immediately moves to put purchases in a bag, so you will have to speak up, but a confident “I don’t need a bag, thanks” works just fine.

  • Bring your own toiletries: We’re here for almost a week, and if you flew here only with a carry-on, you’re a better packer than me!  But if you can check a bag and bring your own full-size products from home, you will eliminate all the waste of the little mini products in your hotel room.  And if you drove here, there’s no reason to not bring the products from your own bathroom at home.

  • Make sure you clean up after yourself. I know the WBENC National Conference isn’t quite as crazy as the Floatopia party in Virginia Beach last weekend, where over 10 TONS of garbage was left of the beach. Plastic entering the water – like Baltimore’s beautiful Inner Harbor – ends up as microplastic, which is infinitely harder to capture. So make sure you take your trash or dispose of it properly.

These are all small things, but if everyone did them, we would be able to make a difference!

And one final plea to the WBEs and Corporate Members and Sponsors – in your business, can you focus on sustainability? Can you consider alternate sources of packaging materials that could reduce the use of single-use plastic, or use more sustainable paper?  Can you reduce the amount of material you use for your product’s packaging? Do you have resources that can help support the US recycling industry to make it more effective? What can your business do to make an impact?

 

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