Ask Eartha: What to consider when planning a zero-waste event
July 6, 2017
I'm putting together a picnic for a local group of about 50 people and would like to make our event zero waste. What are some of the things I need to consider?
These days, it's hard to make events zero waste. We have single-use bags (think chips, grocery bags and party mix), single-use beverage containers, and paper and plastic single-use dishware. We're immediately set up for failure just by the way our food and drinks are packaged. If we don't pay special attention to the "upstream" side of our products (purchasing and packaging), we can easily get into a situation where we're having to trash nearly everything that is left over from an event. Because of this, to make any event zero waste, it's important to understand your local recycling guidelines, your total waste stream and your purchasing needs. Take it a step further and consider the transportation aspect of your event as well. If you go zero waste, but everyone is driving their own cars to the event, we haven't really achieved our true goal.
Step 1: Consider what you're purchasing. If serving food, can it be potluck style where people bring their own food in reusable containers? If not, can you buy or serve in bulk instead of single use portions? How is the food packaged? Can you recycle the packaging (cardboard, paperboard, glass and plastic bottles) or is it trash (plastic film, single-use bags, clamshells, serving platters)? If serving beverages, can you pour from kegs, liter bottles or ensure you have aluminum cans?
Step 2: Encourage people to BYOB (bring-your-own-bottle) and dishware. In Breckenridge, the Recreation Department recently changed their venue guidelines to encourage event attendees to bring their own beverage containers and dishware. This includes everything from your cup to the utensils, plates and napkins you use. Make a game out of it. Ask people to bring a fun pint glass from home to trade with another attendee, or tell a story about how it came to be a part of your household. This can be a great icebreaker for any group and a fun way to draw attention to your durable dishware!
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Step 3: Communicate with your vendors. If you're just hosting a picnic, there's no need to communicate with vendors (you probably don't have any). If you're doing a larger event, talking to the caterers, servers, wait staff and organizers about purchasing products and the final waste stream is imperative. Everyone must have buy-in for it to work. People come from all over the country with different recycling guidelines and access. Not all recycling programs are the same, so communicate about local regulations and maintain specific purchasing requirements. Contamination of the recycling stream means your collected materials end up as trash, so everyone should be on the same page to make your zero-waste event a success.
Step 4: Provide recycling and compost bins at your event. Act on this step after you've thoroughly considered all the purchasing options available. Now that you have some packaging that you're sure can be recycled, it must end up in the right bin for it to count! Taking a moment to share the recycling and composting guidelines with the group will go a long way to reducing contamination. Having a volunteer stand at the stations is even more productive. Compost in Summit County is food scraps ONLY (no manufactured compostable plastic or paper), but it's a great way to put food waste back to good use.
Step 5: Bike, carpool or ride public transportation to the event. This one goes without saying much. Get out of your cars and enjoy the day!
Step 5: Toot your own horn. Zero waste is part do-gooder and part educational. You're doing the right thing for the planet, but you're also there to educate guests about the goals of zero waste. Talk about it, advertise it, tell your story! If more and more people understand zero waste and how to get there, we can have a long and lasting impact with our events. Waste is something that needs to be elevated in the public eye so that we realize what we're producing and how it's impacting our environment.
If you're still overcoming the hurdles to make your next event zero waste, call the friendly staff at the High Country Conservation Center to help. They can provide the recycling and composting bins, purchasing guidelines and recommendations, and have clever ways to help encourage zero waste at your next event. Thanks for making Summit green again.
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