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What Happens to the Tons of Material That Go Into the RNC in Cleveland?

RNC construction at Quicken Loans Arena

Miles of broadcast cable and thousands of sheets of plywood, not to mention balloons and confetti, are just some of the things that will be left over after the Republican National Convention wraps up later this month. And as WKSU’s Kevin Niedermier reports, an environmentally friendly ending is being planned for most of it. 

Carpenters and electricians are racing to transform the inside of Quicken Loans Arena from a basketball venue to a political epicenter by Monday.  As the stage rises at mid-court, Greg Lane of Freeman, the company that has setting-up Republican National Conventions since 1984, talks about some of what’s going into the transformation.

Lots of wood going into the RNC arena construction
"We’re probably going to have 2,000, maybe 2,500 sheets of plywood, maybe more than that.”

Gereg Lane
Greg Lane of the Freeman company.

Lane says after the RNC, most of this plywood will be reused for other conventions Freeman creates.

“A lot of it is not nailed in, it’s screwed in so we can take those out and re-purpose that plywood afterwards. There’s certainly some smaller pieces that are custom and stuff, but a small percentage of it, maybe 15 or 20 percent can’t be reused. But we do have some local recyclers that are working with the building and us to take even that and paper products for recycling.”

Finding new uses
And there will be plenty of left-over paper, and balloons. Dave O’Neil is deputy press secretary for the RNC.  

Dave O'Neil of the RNC
RNC Deputy Press Secretary Dave O'Neil

“We have about 125,000 balloons that will drop and need to be cleaned up. We have about 1,000 pounds of confetti that will be dropped and need to be cleaned up. All of that material, the paper ... for handouts and things of that nature, it won’t simply be thrown away; it will be recycled.”

Some things are easier to recycle than others. Greg Lane with the Freeman company says much of the equipment they use including electrical cables and connections and scaffolding for lights are designed to be reused. But he says big media events like the RNC pose some special challenges.

Broadcast leftovers are a big challenge
“The cable for the media, the signal cable and video and sound, that’s more difficult to take out and re-purpose again. But we do have a company that comes in and we end up cutting that into sections to try to get it out because the bundles are so big.”

For items like this, Lane says Freeman contracts with local recyclers. Diane Bickett is head of the Cuyahoga County Solid Waste District. She has talked with Lane about some possible collaborations.

Recycling experts will be recruited to help
“We have companies like FPT Cleveland that could take that cable and put it though a shedder and through their sortation processing, they could separate the copper and all the good metals out of that material and recycle it. So that’s an easy one, we’re doing that now with computer cable and things of that nature.”

And Bickett says the Solid Waste District can help organizations hold events that generate virtually no  waste.

Some events can be planned to have nearly zero waste
“Everything from small block clubs to larger events. They get quite challenging the more people you get obviously. But those types of events usually have a waste reduction component sort of planning ahead so you’re not creating waste on the back end. Putting good recycling systems in places, putting people at the recycling stations and the trash cans to make sure people are sorting properly.”

Bickett says the district can also recommend a recycling company to handle the carpeting, which Freeman’s Greg Lane says it recycles after it’s too worn to use for another convention. He says there are two reasons his company tries to avoid using the landfill.

Recycling and reuse can make good business sense
“Seventy percent of the things we use to build out an environment like this for an experience for our customers, we repurpose and reuse or re-rent or recycle. So, we’re doing that as part of the environment, but it’s just economically smart to do that, that’s just how we’re run the business.”

Lane says the 30 percent of materials they can’t reuse or recycle include un-recyclable plastics, Styrofoam, and other odds and ends. He expects to contract with local recycling companies this week to take care of the other items like broadcast cable and carpeting. Quicken Loans Arena already has recyclers that deal with paper and balloons.