Ask Eartha: Create your own zero-waste event
June 15, 2017
I always volunteer to be a Zero Waste Warrior at the Frisco BBQ. I'm proud to help keep so much waste out of the landfill! Lately I've been wondering how I can bring the zero-waste mentality to events at work. Do you have any suggestions for getting started?
— Molly, Frisco
Molly, thanks for your question and for being a Zero Waste Warrior — we appreciate you! The town of Frisco and High Country Conservation Center are dedicated to creating as little landfill waste as possible during the BBQ, but we couldn't do it without all our volunteers. Last year, we composted and recycled 75 percent of the waste generated at the event — that's a lot of bones and corn cobs.
The BBQ regularly sees between 30,000-40,000 people strolling Frisco's Main Street, but the basic guidelines for creating a zero-waste event are similar no matter how small (or large) your shindig is. Here are some things to keep in mind for your next office birthday party, company picnic, festival — you name it.
Be a Champion
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Zero-waste events don't happen on their own. You need a champion involved in the planning process so that everyone involved in putting the event together understands and buys-into the zero-waste goal. That champion could be you.
Make a Plan
While it's an admirable goal, a zero-waste event doesn't have to generate absolutely zero garbage — although it's doable. What's most important is to begin thinking about how to create less landfill waste overall. You'll need to consider all the logistics so that your zero-waste plans complement the type of event you're having. For example, you might be able to use durable dishware and utensils at a small office party if you have access to a dishwasher, but maybe not at a companywide picnic.
Regardless of event type, your goal should be to recycle and compost everything accepted in our local programs. Understand what materials are collected for recycling and composting before you purchase anything. If you're unsure about local recycling rules, the High Country Conservation Center is a great resource for figuring out what's accepted in our community.
If you are going to use disposable dishware, look for eco-friendly options made of bamboo or recycled content. And do you really need season- or holiday-specific decorative napkins? Could you get by with cloth or recycled content napkins instead? As for food service, can you serve in bulk rather than individually wrapped items? Trash might be inevitable, but thinking about how to minimize the environmental impact of that trash is key.
Create a User-Friendly System
The best systems make it easy to comply with zero-waste goals. Place recycling and compost containers next to every trash can, and — equally important — make sure these containers are well labeled and monitored whenever possible. You might create signs with pictures of what goes into each container, or you could even tape items to the containers themselves. Whatever you do, make it obvious what goes where, keeping in mind that you'll be most successful if you can recruit volunteers to help folks sort their waste.
Make it Fun
Zero-waste doesn't have to be a chore — it can be fun! Use the opportunity to inspire your guests to get in the zero-waste mentality, too, by creating table decorations out of natural materials or posting trash trivia by your waste stations. You could even make a game out of correct sorting, while simultaneously calling attention to the importance of what you're doing.
Zero-waste isn't just a fad. Many cities across the U.S. have set zero-waste goals, including Minneapolis, Oakland and Austin. Businesses are setting zero-waste goals, too, with Subaru, New Belgium, Unilever, Ikea all on board. Zero waste isn't difficult to achieve; it simply requires a change in thinking.
For Summit County businesses interested in decreasing their environmental footprints — whether by reducing waste, tackling energy inefficiency or educating staff — consider joining HC3's Resource Wise sustainable business program. Free for businesses, Resource Wise provides free sustainability and energy assessments, recommendations for improvement, and coaching. Businesses that earn enough points to become certified in the program receive free local marketing from HC3. For more information, check out HighCountryConservation.org/Resource-Wise or call 970-668-5703.
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at email@example.com.