Monday, September 19, 2016

On the Soapbox About Swag

I'm sure most of you have attended events or conferences which give out little gifts to the attendees. The gifts are usually something that bears the name or logo of whatever institution is hosting the event. I don't intend to be ungrateful, and I appreciate the intention behind the gifts, but I'm unhappy about the harmful effects of these gifts on the environment and on our quality of life.

Jon now has regular speaking engagements and he always comes home with something: tote bags, tee shirts, water bottles, key chains, ID fobs, pens, tiny reading lights, spiral notebooks, coffee mugs, nylon braided bracelets, etc. Kon Mari would tell me to get rid of these, but they're not mine to dispose of. (OK, I have snuck a couple of the tote bags out to the Goodwill but I don't want to face the day when Jon says, "Where is my Aircare 5 nylon braided bracelet? Did you throw it away?") Any major event that my employer hosts - the employee picnic and the like - has some kind of swag. I once went to a conference with over 10,000 attendees at which everyone received a large messenger bag. (I think I heard that this company no longer gives out swag, but I would have to confirm that. I do know that they stopped serving bottled water at their conferences and instead provide small cardboard cartons of water.)

It's so dispiriting to have this constant stream of stuff coming into the house, not to mention the fact that every time I see swag being given out, I think of all the waste and pollution that its manufacture caused. Follow the #conferenceswag or #eventswag hashtags on Instagram and you will find nearly 2,000 posts. And yes, reusable water bottles are environmentally responsible, but not when you own fifteen of them. There is such an excess of stuff in our society. Enough of this insanity.

Jon did a lecture at an event this weekend and the swag was a container of peanuts. The container's label had the university logo, but otherwise it was no different from peanuts that you might buy at the grocery store anyway. How perfect. If you must give out swag, why not have it be something consumable - not necessarily peanuts - rather than plastic that will clutter our houses and landfills? And look into getting boxed water instead of plastic bottles if you MUST have single-use drink containers.

I realize this is a minor issue compared to, say, the disgusting rape culture in the US, our deep-seated racism, or the fact that many thousands of Americans would like to elect a deranged man to the presidency. However, I think it's a real problem that needs to be addressed.

What do you think? Does event swag bug you as much as it does me?


  1. I guess I am mostly saved by this because I never go to events. Our women's retreat gives chocolates.

    I did pick up some swag when I went to the neuroscience conference with my husband. Yes, I guess most of it was junk. But I used the pens, and I picked up a cool thing from the Societe des Neurosciences: a cardboard bookmark with tiny post-it notes right on it. I use it all the time when I'm reading a real book (i.e. not a book on kindle) to mark passages I want to remember. But yeah, I found that the best stuff was the readily consumable stuff. Candy!

    We had a friend who went to the NRA convention (National RESTAURANT Association!) and brought us some red, white, and blue fortune cookies. They were kind of terrible. I think maybe they were gluten-free or something.

    My kids have gotten about 1000 plastic reusable water bottles from places they have volunteered at. Yes, it's too much.

  2. I agree, but I like when I get an event Tee, the brighter the better. No, I know nobody ever wears them, but I make them into grocery bags (sew the hem shut, cut off sleeves and crew neck, BOOM). If they hand out a nice fabric tote, I like those too! But you're correct, most swag is just junk with the rare useful doodad. Really delicious snacks are the BEST swag.

  3. My husband attends conferences focusing on environmental issues, but even they have swag! T-shirts I don't mind as much, because they do get worn and the metal drinking cups are awfully handy to have on hand when small children come to visit. And the time he brought me the Patron labeled chapstick? That was decent swag. (Tasted like a margarita!). But ENOUGH with the water bottles. Metal and plastic - we have dozens of them.
    He worked Farm Aid this past weekend and they were told they couldn't hand out any swag - which sounds absolutely lovely.

  4. My husband always brings home stuff "for the kids" from these sorts of events. We have ENOUGH can coolers and flashlights and bobble heads and shit! I am 100% with you. Save the money on the swag and cut me a break somewhere else--OR save money on the swag and shell out for better food at the event.

  5. I also hate swag. We get less and less of it these days (go to less conferences, etc.) luckily. The most recent swag we got came as a thank-you gift to my husband for his volunteer work at a wetlands --it just seems so silly to get stuff from an environmental organization :-) Luckily they were things (packs of cards with birds, etc.) that we could donate to Goodwill.

  6. I went to a large BlogHer conference several years ago in which swag was thrown at attendees every time we turned around. Not only was there a large tote filled with stuff at registration, there was an entire convention center hall dedicated to swag. They also offered an option to drop off unwanted swag at a designated spot. I'm not sure what they did with the excess. I just refused offers of anything and came home swag-free.

    My husband, on the other hand, seems incapable of refusing any freebie, no matter how frivolous or useless... :-/