For venues: Making the switch to reusable water bottles

Club Passim has recently eliminated plastic water bottles. The legendary music venue in Cambridge, MA now provides reusable water bottles for the green room and on stage. We’d love to see this become standard practice at all venues, large and small! STAC’s Laura Risk interviews Matt Smith of Club Passim:

Laura Risk: Why did you decide to move to reusable bottles?  And why now?

Matt Smith:  It’s something that we’ve talked about many times over the past few years, and then we were up at Folk Alliance this past February. Folk Alliance is becoming a greener event: people bring reusable water containers, and the conference has water stations where you can refill your bottle. At Club Passim, it was always sad to get a delivery of plastic water bottles. Often at the end of the night there’d be six of them on stage, all half-empty. You see what a horrible waste this is, day after day after day. So, when we got back from the Folk Alliance conference, we were just like, that’s it. It’s over. Today. We’re figuring this out immediately. We’re going to do some research and get a handful of reusable bottles. You can use glasses, too, but sometimes on stage people want something with a top on it, in case they kick it over.

We looked around for stainless steel water bottles and got a dozen of them. We keep them in the green room. Every day, we wash the ones that were used that day. We put a water cooler down in the green room, too, so performers have direct access to water instead of having to come out into the lobby to fill bottles. It’s just a matter of relearning the assumed, the things we’ve assumed for decades. Making a new normal out of this kind of sustainability. Long-term it’s going to help everybody, and I’d rather be on that side of it!


LR: How does your system work? If other venues are interested in moving in this direction, what exactly do they need to do?

MS: Get the right bottle for the space that you have. If you have a commercial kitchen in your venue, find something that can withstand the high temperatures of a commercial dishwasher. If you’re hand-washing them, it’s not an issue. Make sure that you have enough bottles on hand for the number of performers you’re going to have. If you don’t have a water line that runs into your green room or backstage, you can get a cooler to refill bottles. For instance, you can get a big five-gallon drum that you can then refill. And then stop getting the plastic bottles. Stop doing it!  People will find water.

How many riders do we get that say, “We need a flat of 24 bottles”? No, no, you don’t get that. Just cross that off and say, “We supply reusable containers and tap water or filtered water.” Bottled water is a standard thing on nearly every rider. Well, we have filtered water that is going to be in a glass or a reusable container. We’re not going to buy water bottles. We’re just not going to do it any more.


LR: What has been the response from artists?

MS: So far we have had zero complaints. And if there is a complaint, it’s easily explained. This is a sustainability thing: we’re not going to do bottled water any more. Some of the performers have been posting on social media and asking, “Why can’t more venues do this?” Touring is not necessarily a sustainable thing to do, earth-wise. There’s a lot of fuel being burnt, a lot of to-go containers. But there are a number of artists who have been posting regularly about trying to reduce their environmental footprint while still maintaining the touring life. Some artists are already travelling with their own reusable water containers -- that’s always a real nice thing to see.

In the arts world, more often than not, you’ve got people that are pretty conscious about such things. A lot of artists have even been talking about it onstage. “Hey, this is great, Club Passim is doing this now, I wish everyone would do it.” The word is spreading pretty quickly. When you think about it, at the end of the day, there’s always a glass somewhere in the venue. There’s always a reusable. As we try to get away from the single-use disposable everything, it’s just a recalibration. It’s like when you’re handed plastic utensils with a to-go container, it’s like, no, I’m going to take this home and eat it with a real fork. I don’t want this waste. It’s become such a norm that people don’t think about it. It’s a wasteful thing that we’ve decided is normal.


LR: You’ve already made things sustainable for audience members who want to eat and drink at Club Passim, and now you’re extending that to the artists as well.

 MS: Yes, absolutely. Everything is reusable in the club. We have glass carafes of water on each table and metal cups for everyone to drink out of. Nothing’s plastic. Seeing the stage littered with plastic bottles: it’s not only wasteful but also really unattractive. Just don’t use them.