Sustainability at #SMRnov19

About SMR | | 6 min read

At Silicon Milkroundabout we aim to make sure the event is produced with an environmental and produces as little landfill waste as possible. After the last edition of the event in April, we started to look at each area of the event individually to outline exactly what was working, and what we needed to do better on. We’ve made some discoveries along the way and wanted to share what we’ve learnt and what we’re changing.

The beginning

Our deep dive into sustainability was spurred on by an article published in July from The New Statesman. At every previous edition of Silicon Milkroundabout we’ve handed attendees all the useful info they need to get the most out of the event in a cotton tote bag. The bags feature illustrations designed exclusively for that edition of the event and are also (most importantly) designed to be reused. But after we learned that each of these bags has to be used an average of 20,000 times to have less cumulative impact than a standard plastic shopping bag, we realised that we couldn’t just assume that by cutting out plastic and doing what was generally accepted to be ‘the right thing’ to do, that we were doing what was best for the planet.

Our research has shown that to be acting sustainably, we need to look at every aspect of the things we use. Where they’re from, how they’re made, how they travel to us, and how we throw them away. This may sound obvious – and should be the way we’re looking into everything we do – but our main takeaway has been not to take every ‘sustainable alternative’ at face value. Many of the things we were using, or have looked into using, whilst being admirable and important advances in technology are let down by a lack of infrastructure available for them to be disposed of properly. An example is vegware – at previous events we’ve made sure that all food sold comes in these compostable alternative to disposable food containers. Vegware is a fantastic answer to the question of single-use in the modern day that when properly disposed of in a commercial composting facility helps to feed UK soil. But the issue is with access to the correct services, as of April 2019, only 38% of UK postcodes are served by commercial composting facilities, which means that in all other parts of the country (including ours), they are treated the same as general waste. The carbon emissions produced when transporting the waste to a facility where it can be properly recycled also have to be taken into account, as they add to the overall environmental impact of the event.

So with this in mind, here is a list of the main areas in which we’re changing how we do things to ensure we’re being as responsible as we can.

Composting + Recycling

As with previous events, our recycling is managed by Veolia. After conversations with their team and other recycling units, we have clarified exactly what their facilities are able to do. They operate an anaerobic digestion facility, which is used to break down biodegradable materials but is not suitable for compostable materials. This has led us to a decision to use materials that can be widely recycled until we have access to the proper infrastructure to manage compostable products.

All the bins throughout the event will be separated and clearly labelled so that we can make sure all recyclable materials are properly dealt with. All recyclable materials will be collected in clear bags so that any contamination is clear to the collection team at the Old Truman Brewery. We’ll also be producing some extra (recyclable!) signage so that it’s clear to everyone at the event exactly what should go where.

some dedicated recycling signage for #SMRnov19

Bar

At SMRapril19 we teamed up with One Water to distribute their cartons which are made of 100% recyclable sustainable paperboard and produced using renewable energy (they also fund sustainable water and sanitation services in some of the world’s poorest communities). We’ll have a supply of cartons on hand at November’s event, but are also encouraging attendees to bring their own water bottles, which can be refilled at one of our 6 mains-fed water refill stations, or at the bar and coffee stations (where the water will be fruity water or cucumber water, and who doesn’t love cucumber water). All the different beers we’re serving will come in easily-recyclable cans or glass bottles. The rest of our drinks will be served in fully recyclable cups, so you can enjoy a G&T or our cocktails and mocktails without worrying where the receptacle will end up. There will also be no straws or napkins handed out by the bar, to further cut down on waste.

Have you got the bottle?

We’re working to make Silicon Milkroundabout more sustainable, so are asking attendees to bring their own water bottles to help cut down on plastic.

Our favourite refill bottle will win a £50 Amazon voucher! Tag us in a picture of yours at the event with #SMRnov19 #water

The winner will be announced after the event

Coffee

Our coffee partners Gabe x Route’s bring their beans in reusable packaging and a portion of their ground coffee will be used as fertiliser. To cut down on waste, we won’t be distributing any plastic lids and the cups themselves are 100% biodegradable. There will be dedicated cup bins around the Brewery with a bucket for waste liquid, to make sure they’re kept separate from the general waste. The cup bins themselves are part of a program from DS Smith, who will collect the bins & cups at the end of the event and take them to be recycled into their packaging products.

The coffee team will also be bringing a selection of their own keepcups which attendees can purchase and reuse so they never have to drink from a disposable cup again!

Food

The wonderful team from Imad’s Syrian Kitchen will be serving up falafel using 95% locally-sourced, organic ingredients. We’re currently looking into sourcing an alternative to the vegware containers that we have used at previous editions of Silicon Milkroundabout which is fully recyclable (let us know if you can help out!)

Tote bags

The tote bags are no more! Despite their great look and reusability, we know that printing a few thousand tote bags every year is not thinking responsibly about the future of the planet. For SMRnov19 we’re teaming up with Bagboard, a brilliant team with a great purpose. Scan one of our new paper bags using the Bagboard app and you’ll see our amazing Cachetejack illustrations come to life. The best part is that for each download of their app, or scan of a bag, Bagboard will work with The Plastic Bank to see to it that 100 single-use plastic bags are recycled.

The bags themselves are still reusable, but also completely recyclable. And if handed into one of Bagboard’s participating stores (check for their logo in the window), will be turned into a brand-new Bagboard bag. The team also work with The Woodland Trust to plant trees to neutralise the carbon costs of producing the bags.

One side of the SMR x Bagboard bags featuring our Cachetejack illustration

Printing

All of our printed materials, like the posters, floorplans and booklets, will be fully recyclable. For this event we will also be printing our banners onto PVC, so that they can be reused in future. We’re also making sure that all our printing takes place in the UK.

Lanyards

We have looked at lots of alternative materials to the lanyards we have used in the past, including bamboo, many of which required specialist facilities which we aren’t able to access. The new lanyards we’ve produced for this event are made from PET recycled satin and have been printed using water-based inks. We’ll also be reusing lanyards from previous events, will continue to do so moving forward, and are aiming for this to be the last batch we ever produce. Our old plastic name badges have been ditched for smaller laminated card versions which can be recycled, and we’ve confirmed with our waste disposal team that the stickers we use are recyclable.

Kids workshop

Our kids workshop (which is open all weekend and free to use for all parents of under-13s) will focus the activities on reclaiming waste. We’ll be working together to turn stuff we would usually throw away into something useful – think decorations made from plastic bottles, plant pots from milk cartons and whatever else we can get our hands on!

The future

We’re still looking into ways that we can make sure every aspect reaches the standards it needs to in terms of sustainability. Currently we’re struggling to find an alternative to vegware that we can use safe in the knowledge that it can be composted successfully. Our Head of UK Events, Louise, spent a lot of the summer meeting with different waste management providers and will continue to do so until we find a solution. We have contacted the local council to discuss the impact of a lack of access to these facilities, and hope to take the conversation further.

Silicon Milkroundabout November 2019 will be the first of our events to have a dedicated sustainability advisor, who’s sole focus at the event will be to ensure that all the new measures we’ve implemented are being followed properly, and to answer questions attendees or companies may have on exactly where everything ends up.

As a tech event with many exhibitors actively working on products to help combat the climate emergency, we’ll be using some of these solutions to help improve the event – and making sure we’re shining a light on these teams. We’re excited to be working with Bagboard at SMRnov19 and plan to partner with and feature other companies at future events.

The main thing we’re focusing on is that this is a process, not a project with a final end-point. We intend to continually review all our processes so that we can be on top of any developments and constantly improving the environmental footprint of the event. We’re a small team and might not always get everything right – so we’re always open to hear from attendees on exhibitors if there’s anything we’ve missed! We’re happy to hear from you at [email protected] and our DMs are always open. We’d love to hear your thoughts on the changes we’ve made, and any suggestions you have for the future.