Ditch the Dump and Plan a Zero Waste Event!

Written by: Gabriel Sanchez, Client Data Manager

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Have you ever planned or attended an event and been shocked by the amount of waste generated? Often, events lack recycling options and even recyclable items, like plastic cups, silverware, and paper end up in the trash and eventually buried in a landfill! With some planning and proper execution, you can turn your special gathering into a Zero Waste Event! Zero Waste Events are great opportunities to reduce the environmental impact of your gathering and also educate the attendees on how sustainable practices can be used to recycle and compost, sending less waste to landfills. Many cities have resources that can help you plan and educate about Zero Waste events; for example, see this City of Phoenix website for details about their initiatives. Check out your city to see what they have available.

The first step towards any successful event is the planning! Just as with any other aspect of your event, incorporate a Zero Waste strategy into the initial planning phase. Consider these questions: How large will the event be? How many people will attend? What kind of food will be served and what kind of plates and utensils will be needed? Send out electronic agendas and request attendees to RSVP in advance to get an accurate estimate on the number of people attending and collect information about meal preferences.

Once you have a good idea of your expected number of attendees, plan accordingly and, if possible, keep your event plastic and paper free! For example, ask your attendees to bring their own reusable water bottle or coffee mugs. use reusable plates, cups, and silverware (compostable silverware is a good option if reusable silverware is not available). Also, avoid serving meals in “individual serving” boxes, the packaging creates a lot of waste! Instead, choose “buffet style” food options. Food scraps, paper plates, and disposable utensils account for nearly half of the total waste produced at events and almost 40% of the food in the United States is never eaten! Properly disposing of food-related waste can make or break the success of your Zero Waste event! Local businesses, like Recycled City LLC, and local city governments offer waste collection services that include compost collection.

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On event day, set up plenty of waste collection bins (labeled: COMPOST, RECYCLING, LANDFILL) and ask certain party-goers to volunteer as educators to ensure guests dispose of waste in the correct bins. Provide your volunteers with gloves so they can take out any contaminants that are dropped in incorrect bins, like food waste in paper recycling bin, or plastic in the compost bin. Contamination can have a negative impact on your efforts because contaminated waste cannot be recycled or composted and must be sent to the landfill! Educating your guests and having volunteers to monitor waste bins can greatly reduce waste contamination and ensure your efforts don’t go to waste!

Your event is done and was a huge success! Now what do you do with all the waste you’ve collected? Start by double checking all bins to remove any contaminants you see and sorting out recyclables if necessary. Consolidate bins and bags by type of waste and dispose of them properly by placing them in larger collection bins or by taking them to a waste processing facility; don’t just set it out on the curb! If you have any leftover food, donate it to a local charity, if possible, or have your volunteers take it home so that it does not go to waste! Have a wrap-up meeting with your event planning team to discuss what worked, what could have gone better, and how close you came to a truly Zero Waste Event. Identifying the strengths and improvement areas will help you for future events! Now that you know more about Zero Waste Events and how to plan them, give it a try and become a Zero Waste champion! There are tons of resources online, like this checklist, that can help you plan a successful Zero Waste event!