According to the scary counter at The World Counts website, at the time of this article’s writing (February, 2016), the world has already produced more than seventy million tons of paper this year. If you’ve ever been to a convention or conference, you’re probably thinking “yep, 70 tons is about what they’ll need to make programs for Emerald City Comic Con alone.”
Unfortunately, most of the paper we produce is going to get wasted. Paper waste accounts for the highest percentage of waste produced by schools. It is responsible for 25% of landfill waste and 33% of municipal waste. That’s a lot of trees to throw away!
So why do we keep doing this? Why are we decimating so many trees only to throw most of them away? Believe it or not, for most it is simply a matter of cost. Let’s use the Comic Con industry as an example.
If you’ve ever been to a fan expo of any sort, you have likely walked past a table filled with unclaimed programs and discarded fliers from dozens of vendors. It feels like such a waste of money and resources. Even so, many conventions still use paper-based programs instead of their electronic counterparts. Why? These days, it’s much more practical to use a company like DoubleDutch, which offers templates and tools to make building a mobile conference app easier.
As you stroll through vendor halls and artist alleys, you will see hundreds of tables with cardboard placards printed with the vendor or artist’s name attached to them. These placards serve two basic purposes: they let attendees know who is sitting behind the table and they help vendors and artists ensure that they have found the right table during the load-in process. Once the convention is over, however, those placards are often tossed straight into the trash. Again, this is typically because of cost. Printing each artist or vendor’s name on cloth based signage is too expensive for something that will be thrown away and too time consuming to accommodate last minute changes to the lineup.
A solution would be to require vendors to provide their own signage and to write the artists names on the tables in chalk during load-in, but that would likely take more time than simply stapling up a sign and moving on.
Coupons, Advertisements, etc.
Most comic cons offer some sort of swag bag to all of their attendees. Inside the bag is usually a printed program, a lanyard, and a bunch of advertising and promotional products provided by sponsors of the event. Most of the promotional products offered (again, because printing up physical products is incredibly expensive) are discount codes and coupons that are printed on postcard sized pieces of paper or business cards.
In this instance, in addition to cost, physical space is also an issue. The more sponsors you can get to contribute to your swag bags, the better they will be and the more money you will raise. Unfortunately, to accommodate many sponsors, the items they provide must be small in nature or the bags would be enormous and difficult to carry around the floor. Fliers and business cards take up the least amount of space.
Riffraff and the Uncontrollables
Many event organizers are searching for ways to increase their events’ sustainability and reduce their carbon footprints. At the same time though, event organizers can’t completely control what individual vendors and artists hand out as promotional materials. For many vendors and artists, it is the business cards and postcards they give out for free that will guarantee them sales and help them network. These paper products are much cheaper to produce than the massive amount of inventory that would be needed to meet the demand for attendee freebies (and demand at these events is high).
These details, along with the paper products used for food and beverages, create many pounds of paper waste at every event. As you can see, many of these problems can be solved digitally. It is only a matter of time before we come up with creative ways to address the rest.