Sam Wilson: Waste away

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Sam Wilson, director of EcoEvents, outlines why an effective waste management plan is essential and how to do it…

Why is it so essential to manage waste effectively?

We all identify with it. We want to get rid of it as quickly as possible. It smells. It is unsightly and, as evidenced by field psychology, we do not want to be associated with it once it leaves our person! In short, waste goes beyond brand experience and directly affects brand identification.

In the October issue, we looked at six steps to conducting a waste audit. Once you have categorised and measured your event waste, the next objective is to put in place an effective waste management plan. Here is a road map to follow:

Step 1: Analyse each waste stream percentage and assess the quality of management for each stream. What waste was unnecessary or had no significant value during the “in use” delivery phase of your event? What was the ratio of packaging to product? Was there any contamination of load that prevented recycling or re-using of any materials (e.g. food waste contamination prohibits the recycling of cardboard). Were there any emergencies on-site that involved hazardous liquid waste spillage? Was hazardous waste separated from all other waste? Are you able to know with confidence that the contracted waste carrier met their obligations including legal obligations in the case of hazardous waste? Finally, risk assess your findings for significance and deal with these areas as a priority.

Step 2: Develop a waste management programme to reduce your significant risks and establish controls. Identify your objectives, SMART targets and clarify your key performance indicators (the type of measurements you will be using to evaluate your achievements). Make sure you include roles, responsibilities and timelines. Objectives include the obvious, such as reducing the percentage of waste to landfill, but also include training of all staff to ensure accurate streaming of waste in accordance with legislation, the development of a procedure in the case of a hazardous waste spill and to strategise your engagement with event participants to incentivise action.

Step 3: Carefully select your waste carrier; check their licence (ask for a copy and double check on the Environment Agency website to make sure it has not been revoked). Make sure you evidence your duty of care by making sure there is supervised pick up on-site and all WTNs (Waste Transfer Notes) are checked and signed by a trained member of your team. In the case of hazardous waste, this involves a special kind of WTN called a Consignment Note. Make sure you retain the first part of the note (they come in three parts) and also that the third part of the note, which is signed by the end receiver of the waste, comes back to you (you are legally responsible for where the waste ends up, not the waste carrier). In the case of hazardous waste, you are required by law to keep this on file and retrievable for three years.

Step 4: Communication and effective engagement is key. Be creative in your design, signage and delivery and get your whole team involved. Inform all your suppliers and staff about your waste audit results and your new objectives and targets. Most will want to help you to achieve your goals, especially if you are letting them know the results post event. Feedback is essential to incentivise a sense of personal accountability. From our experience there are many suppliers who have great ideas and who would welcome the chance to be pro-actively involved in a strategic collaborative project of this nature.  In the case of exhibitions, decide on your terms and conditions and state them clearly in all exhibitor manuals and correspondence.

Step 5: Document your waste management programme from planning, delivery, and debrief. Give someone the responsibility to conduct a live audit. Where there any emergencies? Did you achieve your targets? What worked well, what didn’t? How can you use this information for the next event to set new targets and evidence your continual improvement?

The above encompasses what I call “applied sustainability”, a pragmatic approach to identifying, measuring and managing the economic, social and environmental issues associated with your event. A management system approach like BS8901 is, in my opinion, the best way to achieve this. A live event is essentially a social experience in an environmental context and we are therefore uniquely positioned as an industry to lead the way and secure our future as a vital part of any organisation’s marketing and communications strategy.