Venues see challenge in coping with Covid-19 waste

New health and security measures that must be taken by venues in Asia-Pacific are driving up waste at venues, particularly in the form of disposable gloves, masks and food packaging.

Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre’s (MCEC) sustainability manager, Samantha Ferrier, noted that the pandemic has “challenged many of the global environmental advances made, particularly in terms of the global pressure to revert to single-use items”.

Event venues are working towards being environmentally-friendly while enforcing new health and security measures

While the venue does not mandate the use of surgical masks by employees or guests, in line with the Australian Federal Government’s advice, it cannot avoid disposable gloves which are provided to employees who require them to perform duties such as food handling and cleaning.

Regardless, MCEC is committed to ensuring “unnecessary disposable items do not become the new normal”.

In Singapore, where the use of face masks in public is compulsory, Fairmont Singapore and Swissotel The Stamford have issued reusable face masks to all employees as a “concerted measure to be more environmentally-friendly”, shared Jessie Lim, director of conference & event services.

But with the initial return to events likely to be hybrid formats or be smaller in size due to capacity caps, Alan Pryor, general manager, Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre said Covid-19 safety waste from events would be small.

“Our main focus will continue to be on addressing the levels of food waste generated from events. The restriction on self-service buffets at events (due to hygiene considerations) – known to be a generator of food waste – will stimulate the creation of new concepts and menus which can both exceed the quality of past offerings and generate less waste,” Pryor added.

At Fairmont Singapore and Swissotel The Stamford, event meals will be pre-packed in biodegradable single-use boxes. Lim acknowledged that this would be a large waste contributor, and shared that the venue was working towards a better solution.

“We are also working with the Singapore Food Agency on local produce so as to reduce the amount of waste generated from reusable packaging from farms,” she added.

On the catering front, MCEC’s Ferrier said that although food will be served “packaged”, single-use food packaging will not be prioritised over reusable and washable options. This is because single-use items are not cleaner or safer; it is good hygiene practices that are needed.

“The Victorian Government has assured the public that there is currently no evidence to suggest any benefit in switching to disposables. They advise that normal washing of dishes in hot water – or better still, a dishwasher – using detergent is likely to completely inactivate any coronavirus present. So, reusables – such as crockery, metal cutlery, lunch containers and KeepCups – can coexist with the responsible and safe service of F&B,” she elaborated.

When asked if reusable masks might become the new delegate tote bag, Pryor opined that it would be “interesting” to see how welcome gift packs would change.

“We expect to see a number of organisers looking at the inclusion of care packs which may include face masks, hand sanitisers and wipes. We would be advising them that these items are reusable or recyclable wherever possible,” he said.

As for Fairmont Singapore and Swissotel The Stamford, Lim said that the venue can “explore and include customised face masks as door gifts for any corporate or social events” at a client’s request.

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