Three hundred-plus doctors out on a 5-day Continuing Medical Education (CME) meet took up the challenge to make the conference completely eco-friendly. Here’s how.
There were many questions in the beginning though. The ones that nagged the most were: Is it really possible to have an eco-friendly conference? Will it be feasible? Will we be able to ensure a meet which is smart and clean? And will it be pocket-friendly as much as it is eco-friendly?
President of the Bangalore Society of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (BSOG) Dr Shobha Gudi believed that this is possible. Conference Chair Dr Susheela Rani said, “Do it”. Food Chairman Dr Venkatesh N closely worked with the caterers and made it happen while I offered all the help and guidance needed to make this event as trash-free as possible—a passion that continues to be an undergirding factor in everything I do both at personal and public levels.
Let’s get to the chase and discuss how it was done, point-by-point: The caterers were instructed to bring only reusable utensils—steel glasses for drinking water and coffee/tea and steel spoons. All of them were available at “Adamya Chetana”. The caterers had their usual melamine-coated dinner and quarter plates and bowls in addition to the above. With this, the basic infrastructure was well in place.
During the conference, there were five breakfasts, five mid-morning snacks and drinks, five lunches and four tea breaks. At the end of the meet, the garbage that was generated was only 10 kgs of tissues and 125 kgs of food waste.
What amazed me was the food wastage that was seen to be gradually reducing each day as the delegates became conscious that they were throwing so much of food. All the delegates were requested to bring their own water bottles which they filled from the 20-litre water dispensers. The panelists happily used reusable water bottles. No bouquets were given to the speakers. Instead, they received a 16GB USB drive as a memento for being a trainer at the conference.
Disposal of waste after every meal by the delegates was very orderly. They dropped the leftovers first into the bin, then put the spoons, katoris and plates into the different containers placed. There were no pile of plates lying around or falling outside the bin as is usually seen in such meets. Two women were employed for the specific purpose of washing and wiping the utensils clean and they did a great job.
If the meet was conducted in the usual manner and had not been eco-friendly, the following would have been used:
|Item||Requirement /day||Total requirement||Cost per piece||Total cost|
|200 ml water bottles||1500||7500||7 Rs||52,500|
|Garbage collection||400||5 days||400||2000|
The expenditure would have been a whopping Rs 72,000. Not to forget that the city would have to bear the burden of the garbage—and that someone’s backyard would have been the dumping ground.
Things that were used in this event are shown in the table below:
|Utensils- dinner plates||300||5 days||Rs 5||7500|
|Water glasses||300||5days||Rs 1||1500|
|Coffee glasses||300||5 days||Rs 1||1500|
|Bowls||300||5 days||Rs 2||3000|
|Spoons||300||5 days||Rs 1||1500|
However, the utensils were all borrowed from “Adamya Chetana” in addition to what the caterer himself had, thus only around Rs 10,300 was spent.
Even if we had used the eco-friendly adikepatte plates or plates made from bagasse, that would have resulted in using over 3,500 plates each at Rs 6-7 per plate—an additional cost of Rs 24,500. More than that, there would have been so much more garbage. In a wedding we would usually have used banana leaves but that would have been much more expensive as there is a 20% wastage because the leaves get damaged easily. Thus using eco-friendly products are an unnecessarily expensive affair.
If all these utensils were hired, then they would have spent Rs 28,300 approximately. But as all the utensils came from “Adamya Chetana” apart from what the caterer brought, only Rs 10,000 approximately was spent.
The best thing was that the organizers did not have to dispose of any waste except three bucketfuls of food waste. Normally, conference hall owners have to pay a few thousand rupees to the garbage collector to take away the garbage. They were also happy.
It is clearly evident that it is very easy to organise an eco-friendly event. Basically the organiser must have the desire and work towards it. Steps are simple: Insist that the caterer should use reusable utensils and not use any ‘single-use disposables’. Secondly, they should bring enough vessels needed for a single meal which will mean that there is no need to wash any vessels while serving the meal. Proper instructions be given to the cleaning staff to ensure that the vessels are spotlessly clean.
All the gynaecologists were very happy with the way coffee, snacks and food was served.
In a nutshell, all that’s needed is the desire and the will to do it the right way. And it brings out the environmentalist in you!
- No voluminous bags of trash to dispose.
- Save on the cost of buying disposable plates, cups, spoons and water bottles.
- Reduce the carbon footprint.
- Service in melamine-coated plates, steel or glass looks classy and aesthetic than serving in plastic and other single-use disposables.
By Dr Meenakshi Bharath.
Dr Meenakshi Bharath, a gynaecologist, is one of the foremost SWM activists in Bengaluru and beyond. With her no-nonsense approach, Dr Bharath has worked in the social space leading campaigns, taking up issues and offering sustainable solutions for over 10 years.