Looney Labs initiates recycling program at Origins convention

by 'Becca Stallings

Motivated by a combination of environmental concern, corporate responsibility, and the desire to attract like-minded people to our booth, Looney Labs provided the only recycling opportunity at Origins 2001.

We were sad (but not surprised) to find out that the Greater Columbus Convention Center does not recycle anything, even though it hosts large, wasteful events every week. Kristin asked me to collect cans and bottles discarded by Looney Labs staff and find out where to take them for recycling in Columbus. I decided that as long as I was doing this, I might as well collect from anyone who wanted to recycle. After all, I've often found myself in a public place with something recyclable and not knowing where to put it. I suggested that we advertise our recycling service, and Andy made a wonderful flyer.

On Thursday, the first day of the convention, Zarf and Adam helped me build a recycling bin out of modular storage cubes. That equipped our booth in the convention hall, but we didn't have enough cubes to make a second bin for "the Lab," our tournament/demo room. (If we simply marked a convention center trash can "recycling," I thought we might have trouble with cleaning workers insisting that they were required to put the contents into the trash.) I set out to buy a big plastic bin, but I wasn't sure where I might find one in downtown Columbus, and I was worried about how much it would cost...and then, after walking only two blocks along the side of the convention center, I found a free bin! It was one of those plastic-and-cardboard barrels used in food concessions to display containers of Pepsi in ice. The clear plastic shield on top was cracked, which apparently was the reason it was at the curb awaiting garbage pickup. I kicked off the remainder of the shield and got a perfectly useful, large bin that even depicted a soft drink on the outside! I took this as a sign that my project was meant to succeed.

Later in the day, there was a setback when convention center staff informed Daniel that we weren't allowed to tape our flyers to walls, doors, or even trash cans--after we had put up about 50 of them all over the building. I said, "Fine! I'll hang a flyer on my back and walk around collecting recyclables!" and I did. I spent about 5 hours total during the convention walking around with a plastic bag, asking everyone for their empty containers and also pulling recyclables out of trash cans. Dozens of people thanked me for it, and I had several interesting conversations with environmentalists from all over the country. That made the job almost pleasant! I've got to say I'm glad my regular job doesn't involve reaching into trash cans and handling sticky containers and twisting off lid after lid (why do 90% of people put the lid back onto an empty bottle before throwing it away--and why so tightly??) but as a temporary project, it was fun. I became very adept at crushing aluminum cans and learned which foot movements are necessary to crush each brand of plastic bottle. I also realized that my lab coat was ideal for keeping my clothes and arms relatively clean--after all, that's what lab coats are for! I washed my hands at every opportunity and was careful not to touch my mouth or eyes.

Looney Labs staff, especially Gina, helped me periodically uncap, crush, and bag up the contents of the recycling bins. By Friday, it was apparent that some people were coming to the booth or the Lab to recycle and then staying to look at our games! Most cleaning workers weren't zealous about enforcing the flyer policy, so about 20 of our flyers continued to attract recyclers throughout the weekend.

Sunday afternoon, a representative of GAMA (organizers of Origins 2002)asked me about our recycling program and said she might be able to get recycling services included in next year's contract as something the convention center has to provide for Origins! I may have recycled only a small fraction of the cans and bottles used this year, but by drawing attention to the issue, I may have caused a much larger fraction to get recycled next year. I felt great--like I'd managed to flip a Linchpin in Chrononauts to the side that makes good stuff happen in the future. In the next hour, two strangers saw my nametag and said, "You're 'Becca? Kristin told me you organized the recycling! You ROCK!!" so I was really on cloud nine. We collected ten 30-gallon bags full of crushed aluminum cans, crushed plastic bottles, and glass bottles; I don't know how many containers that is, but I estimate that it was less than 5% of the containers used at Origins. Imagine how many would be collected if there was a recycling bin in every room and hallway of the convention center.

Will the Greater Columbus Convention Center start providing recycling services? Will I be doing this again at Origins 2002? Where will the EnviroBecca strike next? Keep reading The Wunderland Weekly News and The Earthling's Handbook for updates!