What is in this article?:
- Conventional Thought
- Taking a Bite Out of Recycling
A look at the factors that drive – or derail – recycling at large convention centers.
You blow into town for a convention. You work hard for three or four days, maybe play hard too. And you generate a fair amount of waste. What happens to it once the lights are turned off and you exit the exhibit hall?
While recycling and sustainability are becoming more of a priority for convention centers and meetings, the answer can vary widely from city to city, and from convention to convention. It can even vary widely within a city, such as Las Vegas, says Amy Spatrisano, principal with Portland, Ore.-based MeetGreen, which provides conference management and sustainability consulting for the meeting industry.
It’s a mindset,” she says. “I don’t think a lot of these centers spend a lot of energy or concentration on it. And it does vary with the infrastructure; some cities just don’t have it.”
Capitol Steps Toward Diversion
Gaylord Hotels, with properties in cities around the country, selects “Green Teams” to emphasize sustainability issues. Heading the Green Team at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in Washington, home of Wastecon 2012, is Monroe Harrison, director of public affairs for the hotel. The Gaylord National generated 4,375 tons of waste in 2011 and recycled 14 percent. The facility has set a goal of recycling 25 percent of its waste this year.
The Gaylord National’s recycling program includes 18 strategically placed front of house recycling bins and back of house recycling baskets in each office and cubicle. It operates energy conservation programs as well. The facility owns six waste compactors, with three dedicated to recycling.
The Gaylord National is located in Prince George County, which offers single-stream recycling. The hotel staff doesn’t do any source separation; the unsorted recyclables go to the county recycling center. “As long as we capture the paper, plastic, aluminum and glass together and we take that from the hotel to the proper recycling compactor, we’re meeting our goal,” Harrison says.
Games Conventioneers Play
The process is similar for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, which hosted WasteExpo 2012. The Las Vegas Convention Center doesn’t offer traditional blue bins for conventioneers to deposit their recyclables. Rather, recyclables, commingled with trash, are collected by. and sorted off site.
“It is a challenge to make sure that show management and delegates understand that we are a recycling facility,” said Taryle Spain, director of client services for the center, in e-mail responses. “Having the material sorted off-site means that it is more convenient for our visitors to participate.”
The Las Vegas convention center operates other green-minded programs besides its material recycling collection. It employs a crusher to recycle fluorescent lighting, installed water stations instead of providing bottled water, uses environmentally friendly cleaning products and has converted most of its vehicle fleet to run on either electricity or natural gas.
The center also works with Repurpose America, a non-profit organization in North Las Vegas. The organization has helped the convention center divert non-recyclable materials such as large shipping crates, which are made into garden containers, and show banners, which are converted into badge holders, says Zachary Delbex, CEO of the organization. In the last five years Repurpose America has diverted about 7.5 million tons of material, according to Delbex.
The efforts have resulted in a recycling rate for the Las Vegas facility of about 64 percent, says Spain, adding that for some shows, the figure can top 90 percent.
Diversity of Diversion
That broad fluctuation of recycling rates is not usual, particularly for convention centers. “The amount of waste generated from different shows can vary widely,” says Harrison. “Some groups are definitely more environmental than others.”
The Gaylord National doesn’t play host to a lot of manufacturing shows, instead housing more office and retail-type exhibitions: government, pharmaceuticals, pet stores, paper, military. “The military is so meticulous about leaving the site in better condition than when they found it,” says Amie Gorrell, director of public relations for the Gaylord National.
The biggest challenge Harrison says he faces is that several times a year exhibitors leave materials and products behind. In those cases the Gaylord National convention service manager works with the group’s meeting planner to select a charity to give the items to “and keep them from going to the landfills,” Harrison says.
Before larger conventions begin Harrison’s team meets with the guest organization and determines what materials might be left behind. “We have a pretty solid game plan going in.”
Both during setup and tear-down the Gaylord National has one of its managers working the compactor to make sure material ends up in the proper place, and the staff works with the customer “so as little waste goes into the building as goes out.”
The Gaylord National also partners with Orlando, Fla.-based Clean the World Inc., a non-profit charitable organization aiming to prevent illness and death stemming from poor hygiene. The Gaylord National collects discarded shampoo products from its hotel and donates them to the organization, which makes sure they are reused.