treading lightly at cons

Tips for a reducing your environmental footprint whilst attending a con.

This post is prompted by the number of queries I’ve had, both personally and professionally, about individual waste items, since the ABC’s War on Waste series started airing a few weeks ago. Continuum is this week, so it seems like a HARMONIOUS and SYNCHRONISTIC post to make. YMMV.

Please note I will be doing literally all of these things and you’re always welcome to come talk to me about sustainability yes good.

(Brief review of War on Waste: it is very visceral and an excellent Waste in Australia 101. Sometimes a bridging course rather than a 101. It is my job to know this shit and I still learnt some things. Also it was SUPER Aussie. Full review to come soon.)

Also also please note that I have MANY OPINIONS on the way we emphasise personal impact over communal impact, and how it abrogates responsibility from the places where the most difference can be made. Sustainability at a con definitely fits into this capitalist, individual-focused ideology!

Nevertheless, you are an individual and it is four sleeps until the con, so this is mostly individual-focused, with a few collective-focused items for your to-do list.

Low level Sustainability Business

Get a Keep Cup and a water bottle. Look, I know it adds two whole things to your bag as you wander around. I personally have a con-pouch (which I should find – it is very similar to this one I made for my BFF) which fits a beer glass and my wallet and phone, which I use at a music festival that doesn’t do disposable items, and it works great.

There are options for you beyond ‘I need to get a disposable coffee cup because my bag won’t fit one’. Sorry. This one is easy. I will accept excuses on a case by case basis, but they had better be amaaaazing.

(Obviously you don’t have to specifically get a Keep Cup, but I highly recommend either a Keep Cup or a Frank Green as they are specifically sized for Australian espresso machines and also Aussie baristas are mostly used to them by now.)

Okay, so not to keep harping on about this, but takeaway coffee cups are usually not recyclable. There’s documented research that the availability of recycling actually increases the use of single-use items (like takeaway coffee cups), but the reality is that most takeaway coffee cups in Australia aren’t recyclable even if they say they are.

Coffee cups that must go in the general rubbish/waste bin:

  • ‘biodegradable’ takeaway coffee cups (biodegradable just means they come apart easier).
  • ‘compostable’ takeaway coffee cups (only compostable in industrial compost bins – domestic compost bins rarely generate the heat required consistently).
  • any takeaway coffee cup that doesn’t start smushing from the liquid heat by the time you’re finished your coffee – because even if they’re cardboard on the outside, they are lined with plastic on the inside to keep the liquid in!
  • polystyrene coffee cups.

Coffee cup lids can usually go in a recycling bin.

The OTHER thing about recycling is about the plastic bottles, which is that plastic bottles get what we call downcycled, that is, it’s separated into bits and reassembled and that new item is of lower quality. So if it’s a reusable drink bottle like you get at a festival, right, it can get recycled into, say, a single use water bottle, and after that into a biscuit packet. It loses value every time it’s recycled, so better to never have bought it at all.

Say no to the con bag. Just ask for the con book, or even better, request the con book online and download the con schedule or the program app.

Bring your own lanyard. You have a million lanyards, you’ve been to so many cons. I’m sure you can find one lying around. Unless this is your first con, in which case, welcome! Get yourself a lanyard and keep it forever.

Medium Level Sustainability Business

Travel cutlery for the inevitable meal on the run. Instead of getting a million takeaway forks.

A big bag of snacks, and a little container to throw them into. Rather than buying individually packed snacks for your room (or however you work), try and do it in bulk the way you might at home. It might not be possible, given your accommodation constraints. But don’t just buy a 12 pack of muesli bars if you can help it.

Learn the habits at the bar. You’re gonna be drinking at that thing for the next three or four days. You’re going to work out pretty quickly if they automatically put a straw in your cocktail or put three napkins down on the bar. Work out what you need to say to pre-empt that, and do that thing. (And say please and thank you.)

Bring a handheld fan. These spaces get stuffy! Of course we can turn up the aircon but also hand fans are the best, and very suitable for people who get warmer faster than others.

In advance, work out how you’re going to buy books. CONTROVERSIAL. Look, we all know physical books are the best, and there’s nothing more delightful than getting home after a con and spreading your con purchases out on your floor or your table or your bed. And it’s so great to buy from those small presses at the cons! But just have a think in advance how you’re going to do it.

(I make a list of what books I’m going to buy as ebooks – usually the novels – and make a point of asking each small press if they do ebooks. Those that do, I purchase as soon as I get home as part of my reconciling my con, but you might not be as list-obsessed as that. The rest of this rambling thought is that I get to buy certain books in hardcopy but I tend to only do that with certain genres, ie, anything to do with climate change or azn business.)

High Level Sustainability Business

Only go to cons you can attend on PT/bike. Obviously in Australia this is limiting but possible, depending on your body and your location. But I’m about to attend Continuum right? I’m not gonna drive the four kilometres haha, I will either cycle or catch the tram in. I do know certain people who only travel on one plane per year, so have to schedule their con attendance accordingly. I can only aspire to their level of excellence. (Also they were fundamental in my professional climate change practice so there’s that.)

Request that the concom reduce the physical availability of things. Some possible comments you could leave on the feedback survey (which you’ve completed online, of course):

  • No con bag.
  • No individually wrapped lollies at the rego desk.
  • Stamps instead of bands for events that need them.
  • Ability to request ‘no lanyard’ on your rego.
  • Lanyard recycling for cons with physical handover. Members hand back lanyards at the end of a con, they get washed, they get redistributed next year. Is this feasible? I don’t know, let’s find out!
  • No balloons ever. ALL BALLOONS ARE BANNED.
  • Reusable glasses for water be provided by the venue in the venue contract.

Something something how the aircon in the convention areas work. I’m only halfway through thinking about how this one would go, and obviously it’s for the venue liaison. But find out what the convention area sets the temperatures at and why, and see if you can aim for something more optimal, and advise attendees accordingly.

Take your recycling with you. Many venues don’t have recycling. I KNOW. Anyway if your packaging is recyclable and not damp or dirty (say, a chip packet), and you’re at a venue that doesn’t do recycling, take it with you! Also it will help you see how much waste you generate over a con weekend. ;P

Tell us what you do!

If you have other ideas, please leave them in the comments! This was just a quick list I whipped together so it’s got some gaps!

Steph’s personal sustainability packing checklist for cons:

  • Sailor Moon lanyard.
  • Plastic Keep Cup (I have a glass one but I take the plastic one so I can throw it around).
  • Refillable drink bottle.
  • Reusable bags that fold really small. Look I too am prey to the consumerism that rears its head at cons.
  • Travel cutlery (I carry chopsticks everywhere due to the fact that I’m Malaysian and there’s NO WAY I’m using that disposable shite we inflict on white people because we think you might steal the real thing, even in a sit-down restaurant where real spoons get used).
  • Con pouch or excellent bag.
  • Three hankies, for the cold I will inevitably still have and will inevitably pass on to someone.

Specific sustainability advice for C13 at Jasper Hotel this weekend:

You should know that Continuum is already doing many of these things! Continuum is a very sustainably-minded con, and is moving towards digital conbooks (yaaaay) and trying to negotiate recycling options at the venue, and also there will be no lollies at reg desk. They are also working towards many other things I think committees should work towards but I won’t name here because negotiations etc.

If you want to buy some excellent snacks, you can bring your own containers to many of the bulk food purveyors at the Queen Vic Markets, just next door! This will reduce your packaging impact.

Invita, a gorgeous cafe right next to Jasper (on the edge of the Queen Vic Markets), is both very happy for you to bring your own coffee cup and your own container for the cake you might wish to buy there!

Take 3 for the sea. Look, basically any litter on Melbourne’s streets washes into our stormwater drains and goes directly into Port Phillip Bay. I’m not kidding. That cigarette butt on the pavement? Into the Bay. That chip packet on the corner of Bourke and Elizabeth? Into the Bay. There is no filtration between us and the Bay. So, visitor or resident of Melbun, when you leave the Jasper to grab lunch, look down occasionally, and pick up a piece of litter or three and put it in the bin.

4 thoughts on “treading lightly at cons

  1. Melina

    What I love about this is that there’s so much here for non-con daily stuff too. My next sewing job is to make the reusable bags for Big W/Target/Book shops which I’ve been meaning to make for ages. I’m also going to do a little research to find out about our local waterways and rubbish – the 4 yr old is huge into picking up rubbish thanks to awesome kindy educators talking about taking care of Turrbal land, so I’d love him to know what impact he’s having when he does that (kindy is near a river, so I suspect that’s the waterway he’s assisting)

  2. (nods)
    I hadn’t thought of the keep-cup but that’s partly because I usually don’t go for the hot drinks, but having a cup for the cold water too, that is a good idea yay. Or a water bottle, but they do tend to get heavy. Or maybe it’s just that my metal LinuxConf water bottle is extra heavy…
    I will definitely be wearing The Lanyard of Rassillon which I made for a previous con.
    Bringing one’s own snacks (made up before the con) is very useful, not just because of the waste, but because having them with you means you don’t have to go out and get them.
    It hadn’t occurred to me that I could refuse a con bag, but yes, there is so much stuff in there that I end up throwing out… like all the fliers and stuff.

  3. lauredhel

    I do a lot of these things, like the water bottle and snacks and ebooks and such. The only one I have trouble with is warmer rooms – I can’t regulate my temperature well, tend warm, the wheelchair makes it much harder for me to shed heat, and there are only so many items of clothing one can remove. Unless the con is liberally handing out ice and cold packs all the time, it’s a cool-ish room or no con for me :/

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