Most of us know the importance of reducing our impact on the earth and keeping trash out of our ever-expanding landfills, not to mention the tons of plastics and other waste that are polluting our waters. And many of us do what we can on a personal level, dutifully recycling and trying to minimize waste in our homes.
However, if you’re planning an event, the idea of minimizing waste may seem like a daunting project. Yet, given the tons of waste that large events produce, many people are finding it’s not something they can ignore. Fortunately, there are many dedicated people and organizations committed to more eco-friendly events. Some even aspire to zero waste.
What Is Zero Waste?
While technically zero waste means just that — no waste going to the landfill—most organizations understand that achieving zero waste is very difficult. “It’s not about perfection; it’s about making better choices,” says Kathryn Kellogg, a zero-waste lifestyle blogger and author of Zero Waster’s Travel Companion. “We’re all human. We’re all just doing the best we can and that’s OK.”
The University of Minnesota Twin Cities facilities department offers a resource about planning zero-waste events. They define zero waste as 90% or more waste being diverted from a landfill, Further, “as a philosophy, zero waste is about much more than just recycling and composting. It promotes a circular economy in which materials can be used and reused without harm to humans or the environment.”
Is A (Nearly) Zero Waste Event Possible? Yes!
Some major events have successfully met the goal of 90% or more of their waste being recovered, or diverted from landfills. Some examples are:
- The Super Bowl. In 2018, 63 out of 69 tons of waste were successfully diverted from the landfill, according to Environment and Energy Leader. Sixty-two percent of the waste was reused and the rest was composted. As a result, they achieved a recovery rate of 91%, meaning only 9% of the waste was trashed.
- Green Festivals. These large events have been dedicated to reducing their impact. Greenamerica.org boasts that the festivals have an average rate of above 91% of trash recovery.
- The Higher Education Climate Leadership Summit successfully diverted 110 pounds of trash from the landfill in 2018.
- Waste Management Phoenix Open. In 2019, blogger Kathryn Kellogg attended and reported on this week-long golf tournament and charity fundraiser, noting that, with 700,000 attendees, it’s the biggest zero-waste event in the world. The previous year, the event successfully recycled 56% of its waste, composted 26%, and donated 9%, and another 9% was sent to a waste-to-energy plant.
Planning Your Zero Waste Event
Here are some suggestions from those experienced in organizing successful zero-waste events.
- Go paperless. Use online ticketing vendors (like Sparxo) for ticketing and event updates. Use social media instead of print ads — you’ll reach more people this way for less. Email or social media messages sent out in advance of the event can alert people that the event will be “zero waste,” to help prepare them for thinking about what they do with their garbage instead of just tossing it in the trash.
- Partner up. Work with vendors and the venue to figure out how to make sure your event minimizes waste. Green Festivals organizers ask their food-service vendors to use compostable service ware. In addition, “ all Green Festival vendors sign a statement that they will not distribute plastic disposables.”
Working with the venue is also key, says Ashley Weisman of the GreenLight Solutions Foundation, who has worked on several zero-waste events: “Even if the venue’s staff has not engaged in anything sustainability-related before, you would be surprised at their adaptability and openness to learning. Nevertheless, it is important to find feasible solutions together that work for both parties.” By meeting with a venue representative beforehand, you’ll be able to identify where and how the venue is already doing some of this work, and what else might need to be done, such as adding compost bins or setting up additional recycling collection bins.
- Plan where and how to collect recyclables and compost. While most of your event-goers will probably appreciate you “going green,” you still have to make it easy for them. Setting up bins with clear signage and instructions will go a long way toward encouraging participation.
“Generally, people will not recycle or compost unless bins are directly next to the trash bin, as opposed to having them at opposite sides of the room,” notes Weisman. “Hence, make sure you have enough compost and recycle bins for every trash bin.” Many zero waste experts recommend also limiting the number of trash bins available, so people won’t be tempted to use them instead of other receptacles. The Waste Management Phoenix Open does not provide any trash bins for public use at all.
You’ll also need to figure out what facilities are available nearby for recycling if this isn’t already set up with the venue.
- Recruit help and teach attendees. You can hire a business that specializes in green events, but you might also look into an organization that recruits volunteers eager to help make a difference.
Volunteers can help most by standing near bins and being available to provide direction and reminders for using the bins correctly. They can also help with sorting after the event is over, to be sure everything goes to the right place.
Weisman emphasizes that “it is crucial that you have bin guarders and signs. I cannot stress this enough. The attendees are not taking better habits home with them if they are not recycling and composting correctly; make this a learning opportunity for everyone attending the event.”
- Look into donating. Some suggestions include donating leftover food to food pantries and offering flower arrangements to hospitals and nursing homes. Consider partnering with a children’s club, like the Boy or Girl Scouts, to take back bottles and cans for deposits, where they can keep the cashback.
Of course, these aren’t the only ways to be more eco-friendly. Other areas to consider when planning an eco-friendly event is thinking about ways to reduce water and electricity usage as well as reducing gas spent on transportation and using eco-friendly vendors.
Encourage feedback from your team, participants, and your partners. And remember, you don’t have to cover all your bases at your first event. If you run events regularly, you might consider adding something more each time that will further help minimize your impact.
At Sparxo, we’re all about helping people easily and efficiently plan your event, and you can do it all without wasting any paper! Sparxo enables you to enter event registration and ticketing on to any website with no other brand or logos, produce media-rich pages to assist with your brand and selling efforts, offers a straightforward guest arrival app and permits you to possess all of your information, therefore, you’ll be able to track your progress. Everyone has full access to all features, despite the size or type of event-free or paid!