Democrats find 'green' political convention tough to enforce

The idea of the "greenest" convention in the party's history was an attractive one. But tens of thousands of humans generate a lot of trash. And not everyone wanted to give up their Yukon XL SUVs.

Declan McCullagh Former Senior Writer
Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.
Declan McCullagh
2 min read

DENVER--The Democratic Party has boasted that its convention here will be "the most environmentally-sustainable" gathering in the party's history, complete with a director of sustainability, low-power lighting in some areas, and calculations of carbon footprints.

Some of the goals include diverting 85 percent of waste that would normally go to a landfill, finding hundreds of people to sort waste into recycling-compost-landfill containers, and devising what The Wall Street Journal described as "lean 'n' green" catering guidelines that say food described thusly must not be fried and shall contain three of the following colors: red, green, yellow, blue/purple, and white.

That was the claim. And it has worked to a large extent: a troika of trash containers (again, recycling, compost, and landfill) dot the convention complex, even in areas that aren't officially part of the event. Drinking straws are made from corn and biodegradable. Room keys for hotels are made of wood. Delegates are buying carbon offsets.

But reality doesn't always match expectations. Bikes aren't permitted inside the convention's security perimeter, so golf carts and other vehicles are used. The wooden card keys proved buggy, and some were replaced with more-reliable plastic. Fried mini-donuts were prominently on sale inside the Pepsi Center. Party VIPs and celebrities told their decidedly non-green town cars and GMC Yukon XL mega-SUVs--rented from limo provider A Class Above Transportation--to idle, with engines and air conditioning on, in the nearby pickup area. (What self-respecting conference-goer wants to climb into a GMC Yukon when it's a toasty 93 degrees in the shade?)

Plus, a gathering of tens of thousands of people (and perhaps 70,000 for Barack Obama's Thursday acceptance speech) generate a whopping amount of trash. Even if it's sorted, recycling Obama-Biden signs takes energy, as does trucking in what the Journal reported to be 900 volunteers to monitor waste cans and perform the trash-separation, thereby taking them away from tasks that might be more productive.

Let us stipulate that the Democratic Party, perhaps because it was good marketing or perhaps because it was a sound principle, made an effort to promote recycling here. But whopping huge mounds of trash remain unavoidable--and the presence of idling SUVs--show that the concept remains more of a slogan than reality. (Then again, probably the only way to hold a "green" convention is to do it entirely over the Internet.)

These and the other photos were taken at the Democratic convention near the Pepsi Center. When you have tens of thousands of people, huge mounds of trash are inevitable. Declan McCullagh/CNET News
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