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Events and Extended Producer Responsibility

December 21, 2012

EPR_toothbrush It’s official: I take strange photos when I travel. This one is of the toothbrush in the basket of stuff you can buy in your room at a Kimpton Hotel. These toothbrushes, made by Preserve, are made from recycled plastic. That would usually be enough to make my green side smile, but what really got me excited was that the company includes a postage paid mailer for you to return the used product back to them for recycling.

Why was this so exciting to me? I’ve been looking for some time for an example of extended producer responsibility in the meetings and events industry, and I finally found one! Granted, toothbrushes might be a bit of stretch as an example from this industry, but let’s go with it anyway.

What is extended producer responsibility (EPR) you ask? The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) provides the following definition:

OECD defines EPR as an environmental policy approach in which a producer’s responsibility for a product is extended to the post-consumer stage of a product’s life cycle..

In the toothbrush example, from what I can tell this is a voluntary decision by Preserve to take responsibility for the recycling of their products. In many cases though, extended producer responsibility is a required by regulation.

Examples of Extended Producer Responsibility Regulations

There are examples of EPR regulations around the world. Many of these are summarized on this website from CalRecycle, A couple to highlight include:

  1. British Columbia’s Recycling Regulation that sets requirements for designated products including beverage containers, paint products, tires and packaging. This website also has excellent resources for developing a product stewardship plan.
  2. UK Environment Agency’s waste packaging and producer responsibility. This regulation emphasizes waste electronic and electrical equipment (WEEE), packaging and waste batteries due to their impact.

Scenario Planning for the Events Industry

Imagine for a moment that regulations came in that required that event producers be responsible for the take-back, recycling and final disposal of their products at a recovery rate of (for example) 75%. How would that change your planning processes? A few approaches that event producers could take would include:

  1. Reduce First: The easiest step for our industry to take is to begin by eliminating unnecessary items or excess volume. This will not only reduce your production costs, but also your disposal costs.
  2. Repurpose Products: There are many great organizations that will accept donated items from events. One example is Repurpose America. I had the pleasure of attending an art show during my last trip to Las Vegas where the artwork was made almost entirely from products collected by Repurpose America from tradeshows and events.
  3. Inform and Collect: Inform your event participants that you will be collecting and properly disposing of leftover items from your event. Collecting name badges for reuse has been a longtime practice for many events, and this can be extended to other items such as conference bags and printed materials.
  4. Support Supply Chain Programs: Identify suppliers that have their own product stewardship programs. One example is Clean the World, an organization that works with hotels to collect, sanitize and distribute hotel amenities such as used soaps.
  5. Prioritize Products: Some products that are used in the meetings industry will be important to prioritize due to their environmental impact. My top two would be: polystyrene (I recommend eliminating, see my previous post here) and partially used batteries.
  6. Purchase Products With Less Packaging: This is related to the first point – reduce first, but with an emphasis on the fact that many products we purchase contain significant amounts of packaging. As an example, look for items such as USB sticks that do not come individually packaged.

Next Steps

Our industry has a great opportunity to demonstrate environmental leadership by implementing the types of life-cycle planning measures that are encouraged through extended producer responsibility. I encourage all meeting professionals (on the planner or supplier side) to start implementing some of these measures.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. December 21, 2012 8:32 am

    If you don’t mind another tip, during the catering of events, it’s useful to ask the staff to open the bottles of beverages as needed. It was incredible how much we saved that way when we tried it. Now it is our standard.

  2. Paul Salinger permalink
    December 26, 2012 12:16 pm

    Insightful, as always. What is still needed is some cultural mindshift though in the meeting planner on procurement practices that focus more on quality and ethical sourcing than on lowest price. We have to start looking for tradeoffs to make this all work. I’m not sure we’re teaching our industry enough about lifecycle planning, in so many phases of the event process. Somehow we need to get this into the curriculum of the CMP test, hospitality schools, event management schools and even professional development training within corporate event marketing departments.

    Great post though. Thanks for keeping up the good work.

    • December 26, 2012 12:27 pm

      Paul – Thank you for the comment. You’re right that we need to increase awareness about lifecycle planning throughout our industry. I include this as part of my course on sustainable event management at BCIT (British Columbia Institute of Technology) and what I find encouraging is that the students are really good about figuring out how to apply this by reversing the logistics processes that we are so accustomed to doing.


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