Hadi Ahmadzadeh is founder of ecodisco, a sustainable nightlife consultancy tackling single use plastics and GHG emissions in the UK events industry.
With expertise in carbon footprinting, reusable cup systems and specialist communications, ecodisco is pushing for a more environmentally and economically sustainable nightlife scene in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. It recently released the report Disposables Discontinued, which highlights the overwhelming environmental and financial benefits of establishing reusable cups as an events industry standard. In this blog Ahmadzadeh reflects on setting up ecodisco and what led to him writing the report.
Between 2017 and 2019 I used to throw happy pink disco events with a bunch of mates in London, mainly at The Bussey Building in Peckham. We would spend a full day before the event hanging disco balls, angling lights to the perfect position and there was nothing more satisfying than seeing the room fill up with people through the night, dancing under the pink disco lights.
I felt positive about everything we were doing until guests started to filter out and you saw what was left behind. Having always enjoyed spending time in nature, and understanding the negative impact of over-consumption and single-use culture, the waste generated by our club nights bothered me; it felt like a contradiction when placed alongside all the positive social and cultural aspects of nightlife.
I decided that I wanted to make our events more environmentally friendly and set out with the mission to replace single-use plastics with a more sustainable alternative. I started by using compostable cups, but soon learnt that I had fallen for a spectacular greenwashing campaign as these PLA (polylactic acid) cups required industrial composting facilities and needed to be delivered to one of the three appropriate facilities that existed in the UK at that point. I also looked at different alternatives to straws and bottled water while offsetting our events through the planting of protected native trees.
Ultimately, after three events I felt pretty disillusioned and decided to design a new concept party that would challenge the way urban nightclubs were run. I had a stock of 350ml reusable steel cups made with fabric holders so people could keep hold of their cup through the night. We also partnered with Life Water to replace bottled water at all our events and we designed a range of reusable signage that would be used at all events.
In June 2019, ecodisco was born. It was London’s first club night to remove single-use plastics and we threw a range of events throughout 2019, proving to people that it was possible to party without plastic and generating lots of media attention as we went. A highlight of this journey was taking a sound system to the global climate strikes in September 2019, followed by an afterparty with a host of supportive DJs. We would include a £2 cup deposit in the ticket price for every event and we handed cups out at the entrance; these would then be returned at the end of the night in return for a shiny £2 coin.
This journey with ecodisco had resulted in lots of requests from others in the industry who were trying to improve their environmental footprint. I had already started to think about evolving ecodisco into some form of consultancy when Covid-19 arrived in early 2020, but this catastrophic turn of events made my decision for me. Ecodisco officially shifted from a concept party, focused on raising awareness, to a sustainable nightlife consultancy focused on designing scalable, affordable and measurable systems to remove single-use plastics and GHG emissions from the events industry.
I was shocked at how much passion and determination surrounded the topic of sustainability in nightlife and very quickly a team of like-minded and enthusiastic individuals joined the party. Our first project was a collaborative one called PlasticFreePints and focused on encouraging pubs to serve takeaway pints in reusable containers during the first lockdown.
In November 2020, we won funding from Innovate UK to design and pilot a reusable cup rental system, an idea that I had been playing with for a long time. It consists of the delivery, collection, washing and redelivery of reusable cups for urban music venues and events. It removes the obstacles of washing, storage and most important, cost. We worked with Secretsundaze on our first mini-pilot in late May and we are pushing towards full venue trials in August 2021. The system has the potential to prevent more than 100m single-use plastic cups from entering incineration or landfill and also saves venues money.
The ecodisco cup system relies on a £1 green fee charged to ticket buyers at each event. This £1 covers the cost of delivering, collecting, washing and storing our polypropylene reusable cups for venues or promoters. Our system removes the cost of purchasing and disposing of cups for music venues, saving them tens of thousands of pounds each year. It was extremely important for us to make this system as economically sustainable as it is environmentally sustainable, to ensure that venues & events can realistically make the shift from single-use to reusables as restrictions begin to ease.
As we move towards piloting the cup system in London, we have released our first publicly available report entitled Disposables Discontinued. The purpose of this work was to collate existing information on the economic and environmental sustainability of reusable cups compared to single-use, as well as an in depth section on hygiene safety. It also includes the results from a series of surveys that we sent out to the events industry over the past six-months as well as some quotes from our first round of focus groups.
We are calling for a ‘new normal’ in the way beverages are served across the UK events industry. Read the Disposables Discontinued report HERE.
This blog originally appeared in Vision: 2025’s newsletter. Find out more at www.vision2025.org.uk.