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

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


Plastic Impact Alliance members as of April 26, 2019

The Plastic Impact Alliance is now 96 brands strong. Will you join?

Last year, the Super Bowl, one of the largest events in the country with more than 100,000 attendees, sought to keep 90 percent of waste out of landfills and send 10 percent to a waste-to-energy plant. Due to its magnitude, some were skeptical. But they pulled it off. Now, it's more

Plastic Impact Alliance members logos: Hydro Flask, Eco Vessell, Jetty, Ultimate Direction, Catapult, The Voice, GoLite, Costa, United By Blue, CamelBak, SNEWS, Stanley, nathan, Adidas Terrex, Klean Kanteen

Brands unite to nix single-use plastic at summer Outdoor Retailer

Truth: Single-use plastic sucks. We all know it. So let’s do something about it at our biggest convergence as an industry: Outdoor Retailer. Minimizing our impact on the planet is central to so many of our brands, yet we consume untold amounts of single-use plastic at our most more


Update: 48 brands (and counting) unite to ditch single-use plastic at Outdoor Retailer

When baristas offer single-use cups and food vendors offer reusable utensils, most of us have begun to say, "No, thanks, I'll use my own." We do this because we understand that single-use plastic is a burden to our beloved planet.  As we count down to Outdoor Retailer Summer more


First retailer joins the Plastic Impact Alliance

Jennifer Anderson, online merchandising manager at Gear Coop, made a promise to herself for 2019: that she'd be more mindful of her plastic waste. She started by seeking reusable plastic shampoo and soap bottles and now she's learning to make bread to avoid the plastic bags that more

Plastic bottle on the beach

Patagonia joins Plastic Impact Alliance, now 153 companies strong

Forming the Plastic Impact Alliance with our friends at Catapult Creative Labs has made us all the more aware of our plastic use—reusable water bottles and thermoses line our desks and bamboo cutlery and silicone snack bags fill our lunch bags. Even more than before, we think more

More than two-thirds of fish worldwide now test positive positive for plastic, according to the Kick Plastic campaign. Abaco Lodge, pictured here, joined the movement this year in partnership with YETI: Stainless steel water bottles help tour operators and guides eliminate plastic water bottle use while educating travelers on the impact of plastic.

Bye bye single-use plastic

It’s countdown time to Outdoor Retailer + Snow Show, which stages in Denver January 29-31, 2020. Thanks to collaborative efforts of Plastic Impact Alliance members, including the show management, there was a major increase in awareness around single-use plastic at Outdoor more

A pile of gross plastic bottles/trash

Plastic Impact Alliance is now more than 200 brands strong

The massive collaborative effort to eliminate single-use plastic from Outdoor Retailer continues to gain steam, with less than two weeks until show time. Of the 200+ members of the Plastic Impact Alliance about 120 of them are exhibitors at OR and will be hosting in-booth water more

Vessel stainless reusable cups

The future of sample cups at Outdoor Retailer

Sample cups just might have the shortest lifespan out of any disposable product. After one sip or bite, they're tossed into the trash. But a new program debuting at Outdoor Retailer offers a sustainable alternative. Vessel Works, a stainless steel reusable cup service, has teamed more

Veteran Michael Lewis harvests industrial hemp on his farm in Kentucky. Photo by Donnie Hedden.

The talk of the show: Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2019

Summer Market 2019 was just my third Outdoor Retailer show, so the experience still leaves me a little giddy and starstruck. This time around I met some of the founders behind my favorite brands, chatted with my Instagram heroes, and also cruised the show floor— attending panel more