Washington, DC is now overrun with visitors in town to witness Barack Obama’s second inauguration. With all those people and events, the next few days should be a gold mine for local recyclers. We have had the greenest Super Bowl ever, the most “sustainable” Olympics and even the Oscars awards ceremony claims it has gone green.
If you have not experienced an inauguration, you’re in for lots of fun, booze, food, protestors, corporate sponsors and, in addition: Metro trains filled to capacity with people riding rail for the first time; an avalanche of fur coats that will turn you vegan; self-importance so thick you need a machete to slice it; the overhearing of conversations including, “Oh Michelle, she’s a friend of mine, too”; and lots of garbage.
This year most of the “greening” efforts focus on the low-hanging fruit: recycling. We are far away from hybrid limousines, FSC-certified wood grandstands and red carpets made out of Interface carpet tiles–though we like that last idea. Not that you can score a ticket to any events–if you’re lucky, your U.S. representative gave you tickets so far from the action that that the U.S. Capitol dome is the size of a gum ball–but in case you don’t notice on TV, event organizers are paying more attention to sustainability than in previous inaugurations.
The National Wildlife Federation, which hosts the 2013 Green Inaugural Ball, is a start. Working with its venue, the Newseum, and Wolfgang Puck Catering, the ball’s organizing committee goes so far as to say that there will be no need for trash cans at the event. The Newseum will only use compostable serving materials or reusable items such as glass and flatware. Wolfgang Puck Catering’s employees will separate frying oil so it can be recycled into biofuels; expired light bulbs will be broken down in a Lampinator to separate mercury from glass and metals; and all food scraps will be composted for use by DC residents and urban farms. The inauguration’s events throughout the city will also undergo similar efforts.
Pritchard Sports and Entertainment Group, working with the inauguration’s event organizer, C3 Events, is tackling waste diversion throughout Washington, DC. Led by David Meyer, Pritchard’s employees will work on sorting, recycling and composting everything from food scraps at cocktail parties to the horses who will traipse along the parade route on Pennsylvania Avenue.
For the most part, however, the inauguration and its infrastructure will proceed as usual. The DC municipal government has taken heat for spending $342,000 to build its own stand for local leaders, though the city department responsible for building the stand said 90 percent of the materials will be recycled.
In the end, this inauguration faces challenges similar to other mega-events: folks flying in from around the world who want to soak up the festivities and like most travelers, behave differently from how they behave at home. Nonetheless, this inauguration could be a stepping stone to more environmentally responsible events of this scale in the future.
Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared on Sustainable Brands, Inhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost). He will explore children’s health issues in India next month with the International Reporting Project.
Photo courtesy Leon Kaye