How plastic bag bans could affect your next event

Once a free-flowing staple in retail and at events and trade shows, the ubiquitous plastic bag has come under heavy fire for the environmental toll it can cause. With recycling rates of bags still at a low rate, cities around the world are now instituting plastic bag bans to combat the problem at the source.

As an event or meeting planner, how will this movement affect your giveaway and information distribution plans?

Platic Bag Bans

First, let’s look at what these bans typically cover. Usually, these bans prohibit the point-of-sale use of the thin film, single-use plastic bags that are used in retail, primarily grocery stores. Some bans include assessing a fee per bag to customers who do not bring their own reusable bags or who require paper bags at checkout. Often exempt are the heavier plastic bags, such as you might find in non-grocery retail use and at tradeshows and events. Also sometimes exempt are bags used in carryout food operations due to the damage or injury that could be caused by liquid spills. But since these ordinances are instituted on a local municipal level, what is prohibited and fees assessed can vary from city to city. It is also unclear exactly how ordinances of this type will be enforced at event venues.

So what are some ways to keep your event eco-friendly and in compliance with local law?

  • When in Rome… Determine what local ordinances are in effect for the venue and city where your event will take place. Even if the law doesn’t specifically address tradeshows or events, locals are sensitive to the issue and may view the use of plastic bags as inappropriate.
  • Institute a B.Y.O.B. policy. No, this is not encouraging people to bring their own beer in a bag! But it is recommended to set up a “bring your own bag” policy for those venues where bag bans are either proposed or in force. Since not all of your attendees may be from that local area, make sure you include your policy in pre-event promotions and registration confirmations. (Great way to show how you’re going green, too.) Many attendees are already bringing their own bags, briefcases and backpacks for laptops and electronic gear anyway. So it’s not unreasonable to ask them to do so.
  • Find another way. Are there other ways you could distribute the information you would typically put into an information bag? Maybe QR codes linked directly to web pages for reference? (Remember to make landing pages mobile friendly!) Or how about links provided pre-event so attendees can download what they need? Pre-event education of attendees on your information distribution procedures will be a priority. As a side note, don’t automatically go the USB drive route since it creates another environmental challenge post-event.
  • Take a lesson from stock car racing. For shows and events with multiple sponsors and exhibitors, offer reusable bag sponsorship opportunities. Think of your bag as a stock car race vehicle. Those cars are filled with logos and everyone gets exposure. Encourage sponsors and exhibitors to not duplicate the effort by providing their own bags, emphasizing your event’s green initiatives. Plus, with exhibitors only having to pay for a portion of the bags, they’ll save the other green, too.


About the author
Heidi Thorne is a promotional products marketing expert and speaker and has a background in the tradeshow and hospitality industries. She is also editor of the Promo With Purpose Today blog ( and author of SWAG: How to Choose and Use Promotional Products for Marketing Your Business, available through major online booksellers or at

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