Believe it or not, a zero-waste trade show is within our reach, especially if the industry rallies around the idea in the same way they did to ditch single-use plastic at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market last month in Denver, Colorado.

Not only were single-use water bottles few and far between, but vendors for the first time had an alternative to single-use samples cups thanks to Vessel Works. Plastic Impact Alliance members Nuun, Lono Life, Cusa Tea, and Patagonia Provisions served food and drinks in 2-ounce stainless steel cups, which Vessel Works collected at the end of the night, sterilized, and returned the next day.

"Overall the whole pilot was such a success," Vessel's Carly Snider said. "I thought we were going to hear pushback from attendees because with anything new you always hear different things. But the vendors were like, I can't even tell you how incredible it is to offer a zero-waste solution at events."

Snider is in talks with other brands, as well as Outdoor Retailer and the Colorado Convention Center, about scaling the program at the next shows.

"We got dozens of comments from buyers and media and people genuinely appreciated our efforts to divert waste from the landfill," Cusa Tea Founder and CEO Jim Lamancusa said. "On top of that, Vessel made it extremely easy. Clean cups magically showed up each morning and dirty ones were hauled away. We will definitely be doing this again.” 

Snider is doing a lifecycle assessment of what she calls 5-second sample cups, and both Outdoor Retailer and Patagonia are awaiting results of separate audits of waste at the show to determine the next issue to tackle.

Plastic numbers from the trade show floor

  • More than 300 reusable water bottles were given away at the SNEWS booth.
  • YETI's water refill vats served 5,631 people with 1,320 gallons of water—for a conversion of 14,080 12-ounce bottles.
  • Vessel Works diverted 6,000 sample cups by providing four brands with a fleet of stainless steel reusable ones.
  • Outdoor Retailer handed out 25,000 Nalgene bottles to attendees.
  • No single-use bottles were sold at concession stands.
  • Stanley, a steadfast sponsor of Outdoor Industry Association’s Day 1 breakfast, invited its competitors Miir, Klean Kanteen, Yeti, CamelBak, Mizu, and EcoVessel to co-sponsor. Together, they distributed 675 insulated vessels.
  • Plastic Impact Alliance members hosted 170 in-booth water refill stations around the show floor.
Plastic Impact Alliance members as of July 18, 2019

More than 225 companies make up the Plastic Impact Alliance, as of July 18, 2019.

Objectives for other trade shows

On Day 3 of the show, a group of Plastic Impact Alliance members—from Outdoor Retailer, Patagonia, Stanley, Costa, Klean Kanteen, Catapult Creative Labs, SNEWS, Momentum PR, and Outdoor Industry Association—met to discuss observations and next steps. 

"I can't think of a more progressive trade show...really progressive," said Amanda Simons with Honeycomb Strategies, a trade show sustainability auditing group working with OR. 

Some other overarching wins:

  • Outdoor Retailer did away with aisle carpeting.
  • The Colorado Convention Center baled and recycled plastic film in the back-of-house sorting area—available for all brands to use.

Some waste-stream challenges to work on:

  • Carpet and flooring in booths, plus the plastic covers
  • Plastic film for pallet wrapping
  • Polybags
  • Takeaway food, which produces single-use waste
  • Filling, such as pillows, for shoes, bags, etc.

Even though there was noticeable progress, the trash still piled up at the end of the show. A large pile of product labels and bags from one big brand was left as trash on the floor next to their booth.

Patagonia Environmental Analyst Dawnielle Tellez Patagonia has a pack in/pack out mentality at the show. "Our visual design team brings everything from our booth back to our headquarters to ensure it’s sorted, repurposed, recycled, composted, or disposed of responsibly," Tellez said. "Our team goes so far as to use reusable, inflatable bladders to fill our backpacks and duffle bags for display during the show."

Patagonia, member of the Alliance since May, is creating a tool to enable themselves and other apparel brands to evaluate the overall waste footprint throughout the trade show, including a way to identify single-use plastic “hotspots."

"We’re also in the process of developing a roadmap for how Patagonia can ultimately reach zero-waste in our trade show operations," Tellez said. Evaluating the trade show operations is part of Patagonia's effort to drastically reduce its waste globally, eliminate virgin petroleum sources, and achieve carbon neutrality by 2025.

Outside of OR, the Alliance is working with Outdoor Media Summit (about 150 attendees) to create a totally zero-waste, carbon neutral April 2020 event in Estes Park, Colorado. Grassroots Outdoor Alliance is also moving forward with a plan and a new level of mindfulness around their bi-annual Connect shows.

How to join the Plastic Impact Alliance

For outdoor industry members who signed the Promise and received a water bottle at the show, but would like their brand to join Alliance, check out the comprehensive tool kit here and send the following information to snewsedit@aimmedia.com.

  • Company name
  • Your first name
  • Your last name
  • Your email
  • Your company's high res logo (so we can include it in our visuals)

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