In today’s climate, single-use plastic is a PR nightmare. Here’s how the industry (and you) can go plastic-free

Think back to the last event you organised. Now consider the single-use plastic it generated; the name badges and lanyards, coffee cups and carrier bags, disposable straws and water bottles. Ecologically it was a disaster.  

Then there was the plastic you didn’t see, like the reams of cling film used by the caterers and the polypropylene hidden in the tea bags.  

That was just one event, too. Replicate that thousands of times a day and it becomes apparent – even with the absence of official figures – that the events industry has a monumental plastic waste problem.

But here’s the good news: planners keen to reduce plastic waste at their events now have an increasing number of resources to draw on. The Raw Foundation, for example, recently published an online guide to organising plastic-free jamborees. Similarly, Eco Events assists planners and agencies in executing eco-friendly conferences. 

There are also a growing number of waste-conscious venues out there, including 15Hatfields, which is leading the fight against plastic in the capital. 

‘By the end of the year we want to be the first venue in central London to be 100% single-use plastic-free,’ says Warren Campbell, the venue’s GM.  

15Hatfields began its plastic-free journey a decade ago with the installation of a water filtration system. As well as purifying London’s already-clean tap water, the system chills and carbonates the H2O, which is then served in reusable glass bottles.  

‘We’ve saved over a 1.5 milliion plastic bottles going to landfill,’ says Campell. ‘The cost saving is something like £100,000. It’s a win-win situation for us.’

15Hatfields now has other single-use plastics in its crosshairs. 

‘For the last few months my team has been getting in touch with suppliers to tell them we’re going plastic-free,’ says Campbell. ‘We have a deadline and if they want our business they need to find alternatives.’

One of their suppliers is Eden Caterers, which has embarked on its own mission to rid the events industry of single-use plastic. 

So passionate is MD, Hugh Walker, about reducing plastic waste that he embarked on a bike ride around the British Isles to convince cafés and restaurants to sign up to Refill; an initiative that aims to provide a network of free water refill stations across the country, thus negating the need for Britons to buy bottled water.  

‘We are working on ditching all plastic packaging at Eden,’ says Walker. ‘It’s not easy. We’re an organisation that delivers finished food to businesses in central London and the ideal packaging in many instances is plastic.’

However, Eden recently started using reusable melamine for its food platters and is now in the process of replacing cling film with a plant-based alternative. 

There are often savings to be made by going plastic-free, but Walter admits that doing ‘the right thing’ can drive up prices. The plant-based food wrap used by Eden, for example, will cost around twice as much as regular cling film. Such increases will likely be passed onto Eden’s clients.

‘Customers are quite happy to go along with it,’ says Walker. ‘If there’s a good environmental reason they don’t tend to complain.’ 

According to the founders of Farmacy – a plastic-free restaurant in Notting Hill – customers are more likely to applaud efforts to reduce waste than complain about them. 

‘We have noticed a real change, in the past six months, with clients enquiring more and more frequently about not just the provenance of their food, but of our packaging too,’ says Camilla Fayad, the restaurant’s founder. 

‘They often comment on how impressed they are that we have managed to so extensively consider every element of our operation to avoid using plastics.’

Lord’s Cricket Ground responded to such shifting sentiments by introducing reusable drinking vessels, while the Royal Lancaster Hotel has vowed to ‘cut out plastic waste entirely’. 

These are all positive steps, of course, though the events industry still has a long way to go. But be in no doubt, the race is on to be plastic-free. 

How to put on a plastic-free event

1. Choose the right venue 

Find a venue that’s prepared to provide alternatives to plastic straws, PET water bottles and single-use catering containers, etc. Enquire about the caterers – what is their plastic policy? Hold them both to account. 

2. Ditch plastic badges 

Cardboard name badges are cheaper and biodegrade much quicker than their plastic equivalents. The same can be said for bamboo lanyards, which are available through companies such as RefTech.  

3. Reuse where possible 

Go for reusable items over single-use. ‘Cutlery is a good example,’ says Amanda Keetley, founder of Less Plastic. ‘We don’t need to use disposables – we’ve just got in the habit of thinking that we do.’ 

4. Seek safer single-use items
It’s not always possible to opt for re-usables, but that doesn’t mean you have to resort to single-use plastic. Paper plates, wooden forks and compostable cups are viable alternatives. Be warned, however, compostable cups must be composted; they only break down in heat.   

5. Recycle as a last resort 

If there’s no other option plump for recyclable products, such as plastic cups. ‘Make sure it really does get recycled, though,’ says Keetley, who suggests asking the venue about its recycling policy.  

Want more industry news? Keep informed here