ADE Green: Going full circle on the use of plastics

Words by Niels Arnbak and Luise Härtel. Images by Shvets Productions; Ole Zumpolle at Into the Great Wide Open.

New European laws will restrict single-use plastic. That’s pretty good news for the environment. But what does it mean for event organisers and their suppliers? Prior to a panel surrounding reusables during ADE Green 2022, we explore how the music industry uses plastic responsibly, now and in the future.

Plastic: nasty or fantastic? 

Alfred Nobel would probably agree that plastic is a great invention. Much like his dynamite, it can destroy Earth when used irresponsibly, but if applied with care this material works its magic across many industries. In case of the event industry, the lightweight, affordable and versatile plastic often provides a great temporary solution for our temporary needs. Responsible use is possible… It all starts – and theoretically never ends – with circularity. But how does that work in practice? How do we move towards lasting change in our impermanent environments?


Too durable to be disposable

First and foremost, we need to put an end to single-use plastic, as this is now the planet’s single biggest pollutant. Roughly half of our annual plastic production goes into disposable single-use packaging. Every day, humanity throws away uncountable amounts of plastic with toxins that take just about forever to decompose – contaminating oceans, soil and living organisms. Recycling single-use plastics into new products sounds great in theory, but it is hard to realise on a grand scale in our messy societies. So much for the bad news. The good news is that, precisely because this durable material does not decompose easily, well-designed plastic products are more than suitable for reuse.


Turning full circle

We need to replace single-use plastic products with reusable alternatives and keep them in the loop for as long as humanly possible. Switching from plastic packaging products to systems where packaging is delivered as a service will lead us toward circularity with minimal value loss and environmental damage. This requires a change in mindset and strategic approach, a radical departure from the mentality that’s known as ‘Take, Make and Waste’. We need to reduce what we take, reuse what we make and recycle – or even renounce – what we waste. And it turns out that festivals and events are the perfect testing grounds to see which policies and products work for all parties involved, as they are basically their own economies with fixed timeframes and populations.

Back to the future of plastic

In The Netherlands, key event industry players were on the forefront to propose a plan for reducing single-use plastic, signing the Green Deal ‘Waste Free Festivals’ back in 2015 and expanding the initiative internationally and industry-wide with the Green Deal ‘Circular Festivals’ in 2019. In the meantime, other relevant toolkits and campaigns were developed, such as the Plastic Promise and Never Give Up On Your Cup, all based on thorough field research, behavioural analysis and best practices. Because a new initiative to change mindsets only works when it gets support from all stakeholders, including manufacturers, resource handlers and end users. Did you know that these initiatives were all supported by the Dutch Ministry for Infrastructure from the very beginning? They are now following up with rules and regulations that restrict single-use plastic from 2023 onward. It will make reuse the norm.


Useful tests in reuse

This new regulation aims for all industry players to switch to reusables in the long run, with cups constituting the biggest switch by sheer volume. Some of them have raised concerns, stating that this switch would be expensive, unworkable or even unsustainable. But is this really the case? While there might be some truth in those objections, it is now still up to organisers to implement new systems for reuse that not only comply with the law, but that are both practical and sustainable. Tijl Couzij (Into The Great Wide Open), who pioneers with reusables at various festivals, explains: “We found that reusable tableware on a medium-sized outdoor festival is not only a feasible way to diminish the amount of residual waste, but also to generate an enormous positive reaction from the audience, caterers, crew and volunteers. It seems, everybody is desperately waiting for a solution for the current pile of single-use materials after larger events.”


The challenges on the tableware

As Tijl explains, a major challenge on the table for reusable tableware is the lack of handling experience: “Within this pilot we went from 700 reusable plates at DGTL and 17.000 at Castle Fest, all the way to 178.000 plates, warm drink cups, bowls, baskets and cutlery at Into The Great Wide Open. These were the first serious efforts to implement this in real-life festival settings. We need brave event organisers that are willing to co-develop this further, building the knowledge, expertise and trust in this new way of handling tableware onsite.” With the need to develop reusable tableware as a service, the on-site handling and cleaning by service parties needs to mature into a smooth working system. “When the washing up is done at a central location off-site, the amount of tableware needed is large. This means that our pioneering service parties will have to broaden the assortments and grow the available quantities.”


Supplying the plastic playbook

One such pioneer is Paardekooper, a specialist in packaging solutions for various industries, for which they aim to deliver circular systems. They collaborated with Tijl on Into The Great Wide Open  and they’re one of the first companies to deliver a fully circular concept: The Returnables. It includes reusable tableware for food and drinks, implementation advice, POS-materials, logistics and cleaning services. Stijn Bartelink (Paardekooper Group); “Because the end-game of this transition towards circularity is full of unknowns, and because every context is different, we love to co-create the best practices together with impact-driven early adopters through innovation partnerships. We can help event organisations discover which solution has the best fit for its own needs and ambitions – and design and implement it according to this as low, mid or full-service models. With the LCA Center as one of Paardekooper’s subsidiaries, we also help event organisations with insights into the impact of their packaging over the full lifecycle and achieve demonstrable reduction.”

Want to get used to reusables?

Then join us at No Excuse For Single Use, ADE Green’s program around reusables presented by Paardekooper, featuring ITWGO’s Tijl Couzij and The LCA Centre’s Dr. Alan Campbell as speakers.

ADE Green Conference

ADE Green features international keynote speakers, food for thought in combination with practical hands-on workshops and a range of panels on different topics.

The conference takes place at Felix Meritis and Huis Vasari on Friday October 21st and is accessible with the ADE Pro Pass, or with the single-day ADE Green Pass.

ADE Green Organising Partners
Amsterdam Dance Event, Green Events, and Nachtlab Agency.

ADE Green Event Partners
Dopper, Gemeente Amsterdam, Handicap NL, Inno Quarter, The Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, MOJO, and Paardenkooper.

ADE Green Ambassadors
Awakenings, DJs for Climate Action, Festival Sustainability Lab, Future Festival Tools, Gemeente Haarlem, ID&T, Innofest, Julie’s Bicycle, MTD, MyZap, Plastic Promise, Q-Dance, Rijkswaterstaat, VVEM, and Your Productions.

Driving environmental & social change in the event industry