Meeting planners, do you know what happens to the waste from your event?
Many communities incinerate waste in an effort to reduce costs (financial, aesthetic, perhaps environmental?) associated with landfills. The act of incineration often provides a secondary benefit of generating energy. In Copenhagen, Denmark, for example, 5% of the energy source mix comes from the incineration of waste. Landfill space saved, energy produced.. All good, right?
Maybe not. Concerned about the incineration of trash, and the potential effect this practice may have on discouraging recycling rates, I tracked down this article. and this article. I included in as a Twitter post (here) where the link got a lot of traffic, indicating larger interest. While there are studies offering support for incineration (normally underscoring the benefits outlined above) it’s difficult to justify the wasted resources represented in the incinerated ‘waste’ stream (including PET plastic, cardboard, office paper, glass and aluminum), as well as the mountains of toxic slag which must be landfilled or shipped to nations too poor to refuse them.
In her keynote address to the Green Meeting Industry Council, Annie Leonard of ‘The Story of Stuff’ fame shared her own up-close and personal observations of these piles, recounting the journey of one such pile which traveled from New York City to Haiti and, once discovered as harmful to the environment, back again to NYC for better handling.
Not so fun fact: Plastic
It is estimated that 6-8% of total annual oil production goes to the production of plastic. Of the plastic produced, just 7% is recycled. The rest? Landfilled or incinerated.
In his book, Sustainability in Business, JP Bergqvist calls waste ‘valuable resources in the wrong place’. Recyclable materials, like plastic, bound for the municipal incinerator are an especially painful example of this observation.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Incinerate
The reality, at least in the short term, is that incineration probably has a role to play in the ongoing challenge of municipal waste management. What’s missing, perhaps, is a more aggressive approach to reducing waste in the first place and optimizing recycling. Destinations, and the businesses who operate in those destinations, must pursue ever-more effective waste management systems which focus on the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle model, complete with published targets and leadership support. Meeting planners, meanwhile, can serve as advocates for such practices and create market demand for recycling by asking better questions and measuring the waste from their events.
Recyclable materials.. they’re too precious to burn. Looking forward to your thoughts and ideas.