Eco-CEO and party aficionado Hadi Ahmadzadeh on lockdown, plastic and the ‘green renewal’.
If I wanted to give you an easy headline then I’d say we are saving pubs and the planet at the same time but that might be a bit of a stretch …
Founder of London’s very own sustainable party consultancy, ECODISCO, voices positivity on how UK nightlife can come back greener than ever before, and saving our pubs and our planet - all in a day’s work.
A cramped pub dance-floor in North London wouldn’t be the first guess as the birthplace of a nightlife revolution. Detroit warehouses, New York basements and German superclubs, maybe, but the small party first thrown by promotional company, Tail & Twist, in Angel’s ‘Radical’s and Victuallers’ back in 2016 was the beginning of a movement that aims bigger than all of those. Not the music, but the planet.
Recognising that his, and his fellow founders, passion for sustainability was at odds with the mountains of waste created at their parties, they set out to make a difference. Thus, ECODISCO was born: a consultancy providing sustainable systems for clubs and festivals to reduce their carbon foot-print. With think-tanks estimating that the festival industry alone is responsible for 23,500 tonnes of waste a year, he has a job on his hands.
Early success has been good, and by 2019 Tail & Twist had become recognized as the most sustainable promo company in the UK, been featured by BBC London twice and Hadi had been named in the most influential people in London nightlife by the Evening Standard.
Now, as lock down eases and the lasers at the end of the tunnel are flickering back to life, we get the lowdown on his past, and his plans for when the party restarts.
Right, first the easy bits. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
My name is Hadi (pronounced Hardy). I have been throwing parties in London for roughly 3 years and am committed to making sustainability as accessible as possible to the events and music industry.
How's lockdown been for you?
It’s been a bit nuts. Tail & Twist has of course been hit quite hard along with the rest of the nightlife sector, but opportunity has definitely presented itself. This pause has provided the time for me to launch ECODISCO as an independent sustainable nightlife consultancy and we are already a team of seven! Usually everyone in our field is moving at a million miles an hour with not much time for reflection, so it has given us the opportunity to acknowledge that the beauty of our carefree, colourful and adventurous community is contradicted somewhat by our track record with sustainability.
How did Tail & Twist come about and what were the motivations behind ECODISCO?
Tail & Twist emerged in 2016 as a free-entry party in a bar in Angel. It was from here that we experienced the love and glory of decorating, soundtracking and genuinely enjoying our own space, both physical and temporal. However, as many promoters will tell you, our bubble burst at 6am when everyone left and we looked around at the mess we were leaving behind: the piles of bin bags; the trawl of plastic cups and bottles; and the overflowing bins outside.
So we launched London’s first single-use plastic free party at Oval Space in June 2019, The ECODISCO Summer Launch Party. I designed a fleet of reusable steel cups with fabric holders to allow customers to hold on to their cup throughout the night and reuse it when buying a drink. The cup deposit was paid within the ticket price so as you entered the venue you had your cup looped around your neck in its holder. We carbon offset the entire event twice over by funneling our money straight to a small community driven re-wilding project in Romania called Forests Without Frontiers and also replaced all water bottles with Life Water cans. Roughly 600 steel cups were in circulation on the night and only 50 were found around the venue when the sun rose, with the vast majority having been returned to our cup stall at the entrance.
You've thrown the first Plastic-Free party, what else are you setting your sights on?
The long-term goal for ECODISCO has always been to remove single-use plastics from the nightlife industry, but we are now aiming a bit bigger. We want all venues to run on renewable energy, we want to increase the understanding of our industry’s environmental impact and we want sustainability to be accessible and inclusive to everyone in London and the UK, not just those who have the time and space to worry about it.
I see from your website that you've launched sustainability focused campaigns looking at the reopening. Tell us a little about them.
At ECODISCO we have been planning for a pilot reusable cup pick up / drop off system for London venues. We will be delivering, picking up and washing reusable cups for an initial five venues with the aim to expand across the capital and eventually to cities across the UK. The idea is to make it as easy as possible for businesses to incorporate reusables without the heavy up-front costs or the logistical issues surrounding storage and washing. The reception so far has been good though it is difficult to predict the future with some venues still unsure on whether they will be able to reopen at all.
One positive thing that has happened recently is pubs have started to reopen, selling takeaway pints and boosting their chances of survival with a new stream of income. However, these pints are often being sold in single-use plastic cups which is unthinkable considering the history of reusables and UK boozers. We refused to accept that the day of the tankers and growlers are behind us so we teamed up with ‘Ours to Save’ to launch a #PlasticFreePints campaign, encouraging punters to bring their own cup and also supplying pubs with reusable pints made from recycled British steel that they can sell to customers who then get a discount when returning for a refill. Not only does this replace single-use plastics, it also provides our pubs with much needed income for each cup they sell. If I wanted to give you an easy headline then I’d say we are saving pubs and the planet at the same time but that might be a bit of a stretch…
Who else is out there trying to make positive change through parties?
To not mention the success of Shambala would be criminal. They are leading the pack when it comes to sustainable practices. Last year only two tents were left on site! The systems they have introduced have been welcomed with open arms by festival-goers and they have successfully proven what is possible.
Our ECODISCO launch party last year led to Oval Space, The Pickle Factory and Canvas London becoming the first venues in London to remove all single-use plastics, introducing a compostable cup system instead.
And then, Secretsundaze announced a very positive initiative called Dance 2 Sustain with a similar approach to Tail & Twist but using paper cups rather than reusables. They are also switching artist travel to electric vehicles, banning all red meat from their events and carbon offsetting all plane and train travel.
What's a common mistake that bars and clubs make when it comes to sustainability?
Many bar managers and venue owners think that single-use plastics present less of a hygiene-risk than reusable cups due to the potential for cross contamination, but there is in fact far more of a hygiene related risk from thousands of used cups being littered across floors, tables and toilets than there is of a bartender refilling a reusable cup
COVID-19 has reignited this debate and rightly so. Nevertheless, the same rules apply. With single-use, bar staff will still be collecting dirty cups from across the bar and venue, thus posing a risk of the virus spreading from cup to hand. With reusables you rely on customers and bar staff washing their hands regularly when handing your cup backwards and forwards, with hand sanitizer on the bar being the current solution to this. There is also the relatively simple solution of washing cups between each use. The very small hygiene risks that are posed at venue and festival bars will not be solved by single-use plastics.
Another issue is that many clubs and bars think that compostable cups can be used and thrown into landfill guilt-free due to them being made from PLA (corn-starch based plastic). In reality these cups have to go to a special industrial composting facility, of which there are only two in the whole of the UK. Oval Space have successfully set up a system whereby these cups get properly composted, collected by electric van but the entire process from production to composting is extremely energy intensive. It is fantastic to see businesses taking these steps towards a more sustainable nightlife industry but it is important that they come to organisations like ECODISCO for advice to ensure that they are making the right decisions, both for their business and the planet.
Imagine, tomorrow you could go to any party in the world. Where are you going and why? (You can't say your own).
This is something that excites me a lot as I think I speak for most people when I say that, assuming it’s safe, I would be happy to go to any party right now. As long as my mates are there, the music’s blasting, the sun is out and there’s no fucking plastic behind the bar then I’m happy!
And finally, what's your top sustainability tip for those party-goers who are trying to be more conscious?
I genuinely think the best thing you can do is make sure that your favourite venues know that you want to party in a more sustainable way. There is a sign up on our website under Join the Party where you can add your name to the 100 odd we have already, and we will show this to venues who are maybe a bit skeptical about what the public response might be to a sustainable shift. Businesses want their customers to be happy so it’s crucial that we let them know!
At festivals, definitely take your own reusable cup and bottle (and mask?) with you, take public transport and take all your shit home with you. At clubs, stop taking cabs and maybe take your own cup (if the venue will let you), but at the end of the day it isn’t your responsibility. We know that party-goers want to go out and forget about the stresses of life, to feel free and happy and to find that little temporal space of joy. It is our job to introduce systems that allow this to continue and we are certain that it’s possible. Sustainability will only add to our experience and won’t take away any of the good stuff we all love and enjoy.
Our 'SUSTAINABILITY SERIES' looks to explore the problems which the hospitality industry faces in sustainability, present potential solutions and highlight people trying to make a change in bars, events and beyond.