I recently lost my Natural Products Expo West virginity, and as might be expected, it was a mix of emotions.
On the one hand, I’m thrilled to see more organic and environmentally sustainably sourced products entering the marketplace, as well as all of the hustling entrepreneurs working the booths. On the other hand, I was incredibly turned off on how a ‘natural’ expo could be so far from natural.
Between being inside for 10+ hours at a time, with no fresh air or natural light, to the excessive amount of plastic waste and mediocre attempts at zero-waste mitigation, each day I left the expo a little disheartened by this face of the natural products industry.
With a background in event production (in particular, those with a sustainability focus), I understand just how difficult it is to execute a zero-waste event; it requires a significant amount of manpower during the event, often a higher cost, and time spent educating attendees, vendors and venue staff.
Given that we can all only control our own actions, I wanted to provide a quick list of really easy ways attendees can help reduce the waste they generate at next year’s Natural Products Expo West.
1. Bring a tasting cup.
I brought a really easy re-sealable travel mug. Ask every vendor you stop by to provide a sample directly into your reusable cup instead of a plastic or paper cup. This worked great and prevented hundreds of little plastic cups from going into the trash.My tasting to-go mug Kudos to Silk Road Teas for being the only vendor I saw to offer reusable (and beautifully displayed) porcelain cups for tasting their teas.
2. Bring reusable utensils.
This may sound inconvenient, but companies like To-Go Ware have created lightweight and stylish bamboo utensil sets that can easily be clipped to your bag. I was lucky enough to run into To-Go Ware’s founder Stephanie Bernstein and she hooked me up with an amazing set of utensils that I used the remainder of the event.To-Go Ware bamboo utensil set
3. Don’t take everything!
I know it is freebee overload at Expo West, but try to stop and think before you take a sample or sales-sheet First, did you like the product? If not, don’t take a sample! Second, do you really need a sales sheet or can you just take a business card (less paper) and look at their information online? Better yet, jot their name down in a small notebook.I may have gone a little overboard with the buttons; by the end of the day, I jingled when I walked. Lesson learned.
4. Ask vendors about their packaging.
For the most part, all of the packaging I saw at Expo West was plastic (not even recycled plastic). There were a few exceptions to this: Superfood Snacks and Evo Hemp Bars are both using compostable packaging films from brands like Innovia Films (who were also at the event). The more demand for non-plastic packaging coming from retailers and customers, the more resources will be dedicated towards product development and innovation.
So start asking! Check out the time-lapse video of Superfood Snacks’ packaging biodegrading in a garden compost pile.Superfood Snacks compostable packaging
Waylon Lewis learning about the Superfood Snacks’ compostable packaging from the founder Adam Collins Biodegradable packaging films from Innovia Films and Eagle Flexible Packaging.
5. Be picky about what you put in your body!
I wasn’t (rookie mistake) and each day I left with a stomach ache. Ask vendors about their ingredients and sourcing practices. I couldn’t believe how many completely unnatural products were being hawked at ‘Natural’ Products Expo West. Then I remembered…there is a lot of money to be made by tricking well-meaning customers into purchasing products with the label ‘natural.’ (Hint: natural doesn’t really mean anything.) A few questions to ask: Are your ingredients organic? From where are your ingredients sourced and what is your relationship with the supplier? Are your ingredients GMO free? What is ‘natural’ about your product?Photo of Ned Heagerty, founder of Silk Road Teas, who explained to me in depth the sourcing of his product.
Just a quick list to hopefully help attendees start to transform Natural Products Expo West to be a bit more natural and lower waste. For additional photos of the event, please visit The Kitchen Coop’s Facebook Page
What else could attendees be doing to green Expo West or other conferences they attend?
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Ed: Brianna Bemel