Much has been written about the evils of plastic water bottles and the unnecessary waste they create (a favorite: http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/117/features-message-in-a-bottle.html).
Questions persist, though, about viable alternatives for large meetings and events. Just this week, we were asked again how best to proceed to avoid this unsavory, and often costly, practice of wasteful, but convenient, bottle distribution. A decidedly thoughtful approach might look like (helpfully listed in order of action)..
Wait.. before the list, consider that re-usable water bottles are attractive to event sponsors for their very re-usable-ness. Powerful impressions every time somebody lifts the thing to take a drink. This initiative represents a great sponsorship opportunity.
so.. the list:
1) educate delegates prior to the event (appreciated, certainly, by any sponsor)
2) provide high quality, re-usable bottles at the point of registration (aluminum like the popular SIGG style, or nicely designed recycled/recyclable plastic). The goal for everybody, of course, is for delegates to keep and reuse them after the event and the quality of the bottle always seems to help that.
3) Provide ample, well signed water stations. Here, your event can show it’s commitment to sensible practices and provide great water from a high quality, bulk source (often the municipal system, sometimes large reusable containers supplied by professional water people with comprehensive environmental strategies in place)
4) Provide a collection point at the venue and participating hotels for anybody who wishes to donate their bottle
5) Donate as many leftovers as possible (lots of options.. charity bicycle rides or city sport departments, perhaps)
6) Recycle the rest
Aluminum bottles are more costly but might be a way to discourage people discarding them (These guys are members of the Green Meeting Industry Council : http://www.cynergreen.com/)
Smart recycled plastic options are proliferating. They are normally cheaper than aluminum and, again, work well for cyclists (many of whom ride due to their commitment to the environment. Go cyclists!) An example of a potential product: http://www.bottlepromotions.com/Bio-bottle.html )
Note: Some event planners/sponsors have turned their nose up (laid their ears back?) at the idea of a reusable for fear of an impression of poor hygiene. One option in this situation would be to provide an exchange point where dirty bottles could be exchanged (washed by the helpful, committed commercial kitchen partner and returned) for clean.
Have you seen deployed similar effective techniques? please share your thoughts so we can spread the word.