© privat, Trash Galore
Stand construction, hall design, signage: as organisers of Frankfurter Buchmesse, we cannot (yet) do without materials that must be disposed of once the fair is over. At the same time, it is possible to reuse materials sensibly. That is one of the findings from the pilot project that Frankfurter Buchmesse carried out this year with the Leipzig-based company TRASH GALORE. An interview with Anne-Sophie Müller (Management, Network & Reporting at TRASH GALORE) and Tanja Väth (architect in the Fair Operations team at Frankfurter Buchmesse)
We know about waste reduction, but what is “waste diversion”?
Anne-Sophie Müller: “Waste diversion” is a somewhat awkward term that comes from the Global Reporting Standard, a guideline for documenting sustainability. We use it to generate the figures in our Reuse Report, which details the amount of waste that does not get generated as a result of our activities. In this case, “diversion” means that waste is not disposed of – i.e. incinerated, recycled or sent to a landfill – but “redirected” past these options so it can be deployed in some other way. More specifically, it means we find people who can reuse materials so they are not simply thrown out. In our Reuse Report, we provide information on the total amount that has been diverted, along with how many kilograms of specific subcategories, such as wood or plastic, have not ended up as waste.
How did Frankfurter Buchmesse and TRASH GALORE decide to collaborate?
Tanja Väth: As the book fair’s organiser, we realised that, due to lack of practical alternatives, we could not (yet) do without materials that end up as waste after the fair. Through the company that handles waste management for Messe Frankfurt, we have a recycling rate, i.e. a material recovery rate, of over 90 per cent. We wanted to use the pilot project to see if it would be possible for an event like ours at a major venue to reuse some of these materials in a more environmentally friendly way. We also want to raise awareness of the topics of the circular economy and waste avoidance, and to use TRASH GALORE’s services to achieve a social benefit – i.e. avoid waste and add ecological and social value.
Five initiatives from the greater Frankfurt area were given materials that had been deployed at the book fair so they could be reused. People working in the creative and cultural sectors were just some of the partners who benefited from the donated materials. How did you find them?
Anne-Sophie Müller: There are two ways we find initiatives that have suitable material requirements. Either they proactively register on our website and tell us what they need, then we contact them as soon as we know there are suitable materials near them. Or, based on specific commissions, we search for groups or projects we think will need this or that type of material from time to time. That’s how we make use of our experience. Public workshops often need craft supplies for their members, and rehearsal spaces are always glad to get some “new” carpeting or receive wall covering that improves their soundproofing.
What were the challenges for the project with Frankfurter Buchmesse?
Anne-Sophie Müller: The biggest challenge in the partnership with Frankfurter Buchmesse is its sheer size. I would say it’s not yet feasible to offer all exhibitors the possibility of diverting their used materials. The communication effort would be intense given that we have to plan a separate process with each exhibitor. We thought about it a lot and considered various options, but then decided to downscale and only find a second use for materials from LitAg and the general signage system. The goal was to get a feel for the situation and gain initial experience dealing with the fair. In my opinion, we got off to a great start with the pilot project and now know how to find recipients for diverted materials in an increasingly holistic way.
Tanja Väth: From the perspective of the book fair, the biggest challenge was and is the logistics stemming from the very limited time we have for taking everything down. We only rent the premises, which means we have to vacate the halls within just a few days after the fair ends. We are in constant contact with our partners, since we could never realise the project without the support of Messe Frankfurt and its service providers, whom we’ve been working with for many years. And yes, I would also say we did a very good job managing this year’s pilot project together with everyone involved. Which makes me very happy!
What were some of the things you learned during the project?
Anne-Sophie Müller: One thing was that it wasn’t so easy for us to find initiatives in Frankfurt with the right requirements for diverted materials. Of course, that could be due to the materials in question, the lack of existing needs or the atmosphere among local projects – the situation is different in each city. We’re not yet as well known in Frankfurt as we are in Berlin, for example. But finding takers for materials from the book fair was a good start and we’ve now had responses from initiatives that have heard about us and contacted us through our website. And naturally it was nice to learn that the collaboration with and at such a huge exhibition venue can work wonderfully.
Where is the greatest potential to do more at the book fair (or at trade fairs in general) when it comes to reuse?
Tanja Väth: Both Messe Frankfurt and the book fair are very committed to reducing waste. For example, the book fair has been offering reusable exhibition stands for decades.
Anne-Sophie Müller: I think the factor with the greatest potential is still the thousands of square metres of carpeting which are recycled after five days of use. Normally, carpeting at trade fairs is intended to be used for 10 to 15 years. In terms of the waste hierarchy, reuse is therefore preferable to recycling, even if the carpeting is 100% recyclable or new carpeting is made from recycled granules. So how can we use this material repeatedly or even use less of it? I know that Frankfurter Buchmesse is already taking impressive steps here and working with experienced service providers to overcome this huge challenge.
Tanja Väth: We also want to reduce waste in the future so, following this successful start, we would like to continue collaborating with TRASH GALORE next year. We will be engaging in further discussions with everyone involved.
About TRASH GALORE
TRASH GALORE has been working since 2019 to counteract the wasteful mentality present in the event industry. The organisation’s core business is finding possibilities for reusing materials from trade fairs, brand events and conferences by making them available to social and creative initiatives. That means it can support its customers in avoiding waste and reducing CO2-equivalent emissions while also assisting nonprofit projects. Since it was founded, TRASH GALORE has prevented over 250 tons of material from being disposed of, reduced CO2 equivalents by more than 100 tons and supported over 150 projects by supplying them with building materials.
List of initiatives that received donated materials from Frankfurter Buchmesse:
- Kulturzentrum Waggonhalle e.V.: PVC banners and carpeting for Christmas market stands
- Waggong e.V.: textiles for rehearsal rooms
- HfG Offenbach: PVC banners for student projects
- Offene Werkstatt Mainz e.V.: chipboard, grey cardboard and PVC as basic supplies
- Gündi West: chipboard and carpeting for expanding residential units