Zero Waste events – One of the best ways to beat plastic pollution at an organizational and community level

Contributed by Abishek Pradhan (Zero Waste Himalaya)

The Himalayan Cleanup, Ladakh, 2018.

A report by the United Nations Environment Program says, ‘Around the world, one million plastic drinking bottles are purchased every minute, while 5 trillion single-use plastic bags are used worldwide every year. In total, half of all plastic produced is designed to be used only once — and then thrown away.

Plastic waste is now so ubiquitous in the natural environment that scientists have even suggested it could serve as a geological indicator of the Anthropocene era.

Today, we produce about 300 million tonnes of plastic waste every year. That’s nearly equivalent to the weight of the entire human population.

Our addiction to plastic, especially single-use or disposable plastic, has severe environmental consequences and impacts our well being. 

Researchers estimate that more than 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic has been produced since the early 1950s of which only 9% has been recycled. The rest of that plastic has ended up in either a landfill, burnt, or the natural environment.

India Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, delivering his 2019 Independence Day speech at Red Fort, pitched for freedom for India from single-use plastic by 2022. He explained how plastic clogs drains and causes other civic problems but that is just a small part of the problem. Plastics do not degrade and disintegrate into microplastic that has gone all pervasive. Microplastics have been found inside human placenta, water, soil, air, salt, human poo, the arctic, Mt Everest, and  plants. It is estimated that an average person ingests an amount of plastic equivalent to the size of a credit card in one week. Plastic pollution is a toxic threat to our and planetary life.  

The waste crisis is not a littering problem, it is an exploitation of the ecological resources, a big factor in sustainable city planning and administration, an issue of animals rights, a human health issue, and a severe product design crisis. Only through actions at all levels (administrative, community and individual) can this crisis be addressed and progress can only be made collectively. Waste management must have a strategy that systematically reduces waste and is the responsibility of the individual, community, institutions and companies. Waste must be designed out and must be addressed at a systemic level. 

We are facing a serious waste crisis in the mountains, and also in our own hometown. The dumping grounds are overfilling as our indiscriminate consumption of disposable plastic has increased. No amount of management after waste has already been created would be able to take care of the problem. We have to think of measures that do not create waste in the first place or as little waste as possible. 

As organizations working for the welfare of common citizens we must be advocates of sustainability / sustainable development and always lead by example.

Here’s what will help in making your events sustainable at every step on the way, 

PRE-EVENT PLANNING:

1.Assessment

The organizers must identify plastic, non biodegradable, and non-recyclable items, opt to avoid them altogether or replace them with reusable or compostable alternatives. 

2.Sustainability Communications

Crafting sustainability communications with the vendors, collaborators, service providers, and participants curating the event’s overall sustainability strategy including goal setting and executing plans to help achieve this. 

Navratri Celebration, Plastic Free Senchal Darjeeling, 2021.

3. Donor sensitization

Sometimes donors bring in items such as plastic water bottles, Tetrapak juice items, other plastic packaged offerings which might be hard to refuse once it has been provided. There is a need to engage with them early on to tell them of your Zero Waste intentions so that they are sensitized towards providing the right kind of support that does not result in adding to the waste heap. 

DURING EVENT IMPLEMENTATION:

1. Infrastructure

Setting up color-coded dustbins, bags, and signages at your event to help drive waste segregation at source. 

2.Stakeholder Training

Training various stakeholders including the food stall vendors on the waste segregation process to be followed.

3. Volunteers / Organizing Team 

Our team on ground must help build excitement and participation for the event being a Zero Waste event. 

The Himalayan Cleanup, Nagaland, 2019.

4. On-Site Waste Sorting

The team must consist of trained volunteers to manage, segregate, and sort the event waste into multiple categories for resource recovery.

5. Food Donations

The excess food must not be wasted and should be either donated to people in need or at least used as animal feed. 

POST EVENT:

1. Sustainable Disposal

Working with our local partners to recycle and compost your event waste and repurpose them into valuable resources. 

2. Waste Audit & Recommendation

Providing a detailed waste audit report and further recommendations post the event for improved efforts in later events. 

Important pointers for organizing a Zero Waste Event. 

  • Say NO to FLEX. 

Use Cloth Banners instead and it’s best to reuse even those. 

  • Don’t use single-use cutlery. 

Using reusable cutlery must always be the priority. T here are biodegradable options available but exploiting any resource for extreme convenience is both unethical and unsustainable. 

  • Don’t distribute or sell packaged water. 

Water is a necessity for life but plastic is the largest and the worst polluter. Use reusable flasks, bottles, and cups. Ask the sponsors or service providers for inverted container dispensers and ask for a refill option such as a portable water filter. Ensure enough water availability so that emergency use of packaged water is avoided and announce where the water is available. 

Navratri Celebration, Plastic Free Senchal Darjeeling, 2021.

  • Decorum over decoration. 

Avoid balloons, plastic flags, flashy plastic flexs, or any plastic item that will be used for the sake of the event and then sent off to the landfill to contaminate the ecology for thousands of years. 

  • Use biodegradable, recycled, local, and handmade stuff. 

Be mindful while planning, managing and executing. Try to keep the carbon footprint of the event to the minimum. It is important to understand that there can be no true welfare in unsustainable events. 

The people look up to us, they imitate our actions with the thought that whatever NGOs and CSOs are doing is progressive and empowering but promoting the rampant use of Single-Use Plastics and jeopardizing the collective health of the planet for the sake of convention and convenience is ignorant, immoral, and unsustainable. 

We hope you will do your part in building a Zero Waste Himalaya and make your events Zero Waste and Sustainable. The people and principles you serve, look up to you. 

” Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,

Nothing is going to get better. It’s not. “

Dr. Seuss

In Solidarity! 

The Himalayan Cleanup Team, Zero Waste Himalaya