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Make events recycling more than a sideshow

Talk of recycling rates is usually focused on household figures and how England is languishing at around 43%.

But the average recycling rate in the UK events sector is just 15% – meaning huge potential in an industry thought to support around 25,000 businesses.

To help address this, last year WRAP launched a roadmap for the sector, setting out how it could be zero waste to landfill by 2020.

Peter Goodwin, director at Closed Loop Environmental Solutions (CLES), says: “There is a lot of good stuff happening, and there are certainly some people in the event industry who are very passionate about sustainability and the environment and are making things happen. I would say, however, that we still have a long way to go.”

His concern is that many of the people with this passion are at operational or middle management level rather than board level with the power to really influence. With the exception of big events like the London 2012 Olympics, only a few large sporting organisations have dedicated sustainability managers.

Russell Seymour, chairman of the British Association for Sustainable Sport (Basis), believes there are just four in the country with dedicated sustainability roles: Lords, Twickenham, Wembley and the Jockey Club.

He adds: “The operations managers do not have the skills set to take [information on sustainability] on board as well as their regular day job; they need someone to filter that information through. So there is a role for Basis [to feed that information through], but I definitely think there should be an individual in each of those organisations.

“With a few exceptions, I don’t think anybody has really taken it as a strategic opportunity. Wembley is a notable exception and Old Trafford to some extent.”

Environmental sustainability is a core business objective for Wembley. Everyone, including its managing director Roger Maslin and senior management understand how it helps the bottom line, what it calls “doing well by doing good”. Maximising reuse, recycling and being zero waste to landfill are all part of Wembley’s overarching commitment to environmental leadership. But, as Goodwin explains, for those working in operational roles at venues, the focus will always be on running a smooth event. His key concern with the events sector is in its data and reporting.

“People are not reporting – and this happens across the industry – from a level playing field. Some [venues] claim recycling rates in the high 90 per cents and others claim recycling rates in the 20s, but if you look around these venues there is no difference in what they are doing. The reason is that if you are not dedicated to sustainability – it is one of 10 other functions you fulfil – and your waste management company says you are recycling 95%, you are not going to argue with that.”

Seymour agrees: “A lot of the waste companies, to be honest, are not clear. People are still calling ‘waste to energy’ recycling. So some venues can claim incredibly high, what they call ‘recycling’, rates because that is what they are being told. Whereas in fact they should be called diversion rates or combined recycling and recovery. It would be good for Basis to put out recommendations or guidelines for businesses on how to report.”

Juhi Shareef, Wembley’s sustainability project manager, says a standardised reporting system would be helpful to compare stadiums but there may be commercial sensitivities.

Wembley’s sustainability manager James Huartson set up a best practice sharing group with a number of other sporting venues where data was shared in an informal but confidential manner – helping him to understand how venues were measuring and reporting waste. Shareef adds that third party assurance is a useful way to ensure stakeholders’ confidence in its data, and claims Wembley has attained the Carbon Trust Waste Standard, which audits its processes and data collection methods.

Aside from reporting, the challenges that venues in the UK face are many: some are hundreds of years old, built in urban environments with space constraints, and have collection windows that restrict vehicle movements and the amount of time available for clearing up and removing waste. The type of event will dictate how and in what time-frame people consume food and drink, of which the packaging will form the majority of the waste stream.

Continual engagement with venue staff is critical, explains Shareef. As Wembley hosts concerts, conferences and varied events as well as football matches, its event day staff may also work at other stadiums with different recycling programmes. “This means that we have to keep up messaging and training, particularly for those staff for which English isn’t their first language,” she says.

Since 2011, Wembley has been running a Green Week to engage staff in a fun way in its commitment to environmental sustainability.

In terms of physical bins, source segregation at venues can be tricky, according to Goodwin: “I don’t think anyone has got a satisfactory system apart from a commingled collection to MRF at this point in time.”

At Wembley, a three-bin system is used: general, commingled and compostable waste. The compostable waste is sent to an anaerobic digestion plant, commingled goes to Veolia’s MRF in Southwark and general waste is sent for EfW. Waste from all bins first goes to a single sorting point where it has a final check for contamination before being taken off-site.

As a result, it has an even day recycling rate of 86% with the remainder sent to EfW.

Goodwin explains that if you are collecting just a single stream at front of house and not getting the required yield at a MRF, then the answer is doing an element of source segregation at the venue itself. He says this could take the form of working with event cleaners to get them to do double picking, to pick material off the floor or to use picking belts.

Many venues have seen the benefit from taking out food waste. CLES calculated that around 30-40% of the Emirates stadium waste stream on a match day was food waste, which could be taken out from the kitchens for a financial benefit. Seymour believes taking out food waste is “vital” to boost recycling.

CLES is now working with the Emirates Stadium on segregating PET cups and getting them to its plant in Dagenham, which Goodwin says on the bale price could be cost-neutral. It was at the Emirates that the first closed loop cup was launched – a 50% rPET cup using material from Closed Loop’s plant, sold to the Emirates via its catering partner. Used cups then get collected and go back to Dagenham for reprocessing.

It is a neat system but the company says that getting the scheme in place, which still needs tweaking, has taken two to three years – not an easy process.

Part of the challenge with venues is the number of stakeholders involved. For example, a venue may not have any say about the packaging that is used and becomes waste because this is controlled by the caterer.

Goodwin says: “The problem with a lot of packaging used at events is that it has no financial value to the user nor does it have any emotional ties – it is truly disposable.” One idea that addresses this is a cup deposit scheme at Reading festival where 10p is offered per paper cup brought back. Due to the demographic of the event, this incentivises people to collect cups, with one young festivalgoer even collecting enough cups to buy himself an Xbox.

Of course, venues need solutions tailored to their audience that work within their constraints. As Seymour explains, when you are talking about crowds of up to 80,000 people, simply trying to control and provide enough opportunities for recycling and information is enough of a challenge. He would like to see more venues engage with the issue and put measures in place back of house: “That is quite a low level ambition but I think that is where we should be initially: getting people to think about it and the implications.”

For Shareef, there is already a lot of guidance documents, information resources, certifications and awards regarding waste management. She says that “rather than making more ‘noise’, an industry-wide initiative to make measurable improvements would be a great way forward”.

Festival waste and recycling

Laura Pando

Laura Pando, sustainability co-ordinator at Festival Republic, shares her views

What is your motivator for maximising recycling and minimising waste?

To minimise the impact that our festivals have on the environment. We set recycling targets for our cleaning and waste management companies, and work closely with to them in the lead-up to events.

What benefits have you gained from trying to make improvements in this area?

Ten years ago, when we started planning strategies around recycling, we thought it would save us money. But the reality is that we spend more in waste management since we recycle because we need to triplicate the amount of bins, skips, trucks for transport and so on. However, we have managed to gain other benefits like reducing our carbon emissions.

What are your most successful recycling initiatives?

Incentives work really well. Cup deposits have proven to be successful because there is an instant reward when people get cash back for them. It is similar with the initiative ‘Your Cans Count’ at Reading and Leeds festivals, where we offer a free can of drink to every person bringing a bag full of recycling to our litter exchange points. At Latitude festival, we raffle a pair of tickets for next year’s festival among those bringing their recycling.

Do you think it is best to collect recyclables in separate materials streams at the outset?

The more you manage to separate on-the-go, the better. In festival environments, the challenge is to keep recyclables away from food waste to avoid contamination. So that is why we run a clearly labelled three-bin system (recycling, compost and general waste) across all our events, while food traders and caterers are asked to use biodegradable food packaging and cutlery. We have had mobile MRFs on-site to help with separation before sending the waste out of the event site. External MRFs are a good complement to the work that events put into recycling, but the minute you have food outlets on-site we think that separation should be happening there and then.

What is your average recycling rate across your events?

It varies depending on the location, the type of event, the cleaning contractor, the waste management firms, the audience, weather conditions and so on. But normally we manage 20-40% recycling and compost and are currently achieving almost 0% to landfill as we try to send what we do not recycle to EfW plants.

What are the key challenges to successful recycling at festivals?

Educating our audiences in waste separation is one of the biggest challenges because there seems to be a lack of information about recycling systems. Another challenge is that not many UK waste contractors are interested in working on outdoor events where there is an element of camping waste. Last, we sometimes find ourselves putting on an event in locations where there are no recycling facilities available.

Would more uniformity in terms of recycling systems across the home, workplace and venues help?

Definitely, yes. Waste’s biggest challenge is the lack of uniformity, which makes it confusing and sometimes tedious for most people.

Would you like to see a more co-ordinated approach taken to recycling in the events sector?

Yes, of course. Co-ordinated efforts and official guidance would help with uniformity.

Have you heard of WRAP and the Events Roadmap it launched last year?

Yes, and I find it very useful, although I think we still need some key players like the Government or retailers to come on-board to make the circular economy in events a reality.

The NEC’s approach to recycling and waste

Earlier this year, the NEC in Birmingham was highly commended by the National Recycling Awards judges in the Corporate Recycler of the Year category for the measures it has taken to reduce its waste. In 2009 it made a formal commitment to send zero waste to landfill, based on a five-year plan, and achieved this goal two years early.

Part of its initiative was the creation of an on-site waste pre-treatment facility, which is ISO 14001 certified. Waste generated from all areas of the NEC is processed through the pre-treatment centre, and is then either separated into individual waste streams or sent off-site for sorting.

Recycling stations have been introduced throughout the site, with standard symbols and colours. In 2013, planning permission was granted for a £100m on-site biomass plant, which will make the venue selfsufficient for power and heat as well as support the energy requirements of local businesses and communities. It is expected to start operating in spring 2017.

NEC Recycling

MRW asks Steve Cartmell, NEC contract manager for cleaning, more about its approach

What has the NEC’s motivation been for maximising recycling and minimising waste?

It has always been corporate social responsibility. The venue is located close to the local landfill site, and we have always been aware of the ever-mounting waste that is sent there. In 2008 the decision was made to stop contributing to the site and instead recycle and reuse wherever possible. We now only use suppliers that are based within a 30-mile radius of the venue. We work with local charities and community centres, diverting products left from exhibitions into useful items. The savings made on landfill tax and rebates from recycled materials have helped to fund the operation.

What benefits have been gained from trying to make improvements in this area?

In 2014, all waste management charges for organisers were frozen for a second consecutive year.

What is your view on collecting different recyclables in separate containers at the outset versus sorting it later?

Wherever we can, we try to collect different recyclables in separate containers at the source. But we often work to tight deadlines and so collecting it all in one go is often the quickest option. It also ensures that we are maximising the amount of waste that is recycled and avoids sending mixed loads to a third party supplier.

What happens to the carpets from exhibitions?

Most is collected by the event’s carpet contractors, which have their own recycling arrangements; any offcuts left on-site are sent to EfW.

What is your average recycling rate across your events?

In 2013, the NEC venue recycled just over 90% of total site waste.

Have you heard of WRAP and the Events Roadmap it launched last year?

The roadmap is aimed at making organisers aware of what they are producing and encourages them to have a good waste management plan in place, but at the NEC we already provide this information. There have been many examples where our organisers have reduced the waste they leave behind as a result of this information.

Would you like to see a more co-ordinated approach taken to recycling in the events/ venue sector?

A co-ordinated approach is difficult in an international stage as countries have their own waste policies and targets.

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