A couple weeks ago I got a call from a Bulletin reporter asking about my take on how certain event organizers handle their waste. My response? They could all do better. But there’s a lot more to it than that, and as we talked she changed the angle of her article and decided to do a whole series on recycling, which will be found alongside the article here: www.BendBulletin.com/recycle. Of course we’re thrilled to have any topic that relates to preventing or reducing waste put front and center for our community, and thought we could expand a bit on zero waste events specifically to pass on some insight we’ve learned over the years.

When we talk about planning a zero waste event, we are really talking about zero waste as a goal and as a mindset. Yes, there will still be some waste, but efforts are taken from the get go to minimize waste.  Still, it is assumed that a zero waste event is one that avoids disposables headed to the landfill through some combination of reuse, composting and recycling, making sure that the right stuff goes in the right bin and minimal trash goes to the landfill.

Since events of most sizes serve some kind of food and beverage, there has to be something for it to go in. The best option by far, is to reuse durables. This is common for an event like a wedding, but less so once you get bigger due to the expense and logistics. However, a little creative thinking can get around some of that. Local events like Last Saturday at The Old Ironworks ask people to buy one of their ceramic mugs and if they bring it each month they can fill it for free.  The result? People remember to bring their mug, and there are always new ones for sale every month. Bigger events like Pickathon are plastic free and don’t use ANY disposables, by providing water fill stations, souvenir kleen kanteen steel cups, and a system of wash stations for reusables you can bring or buy on site.

To that end, here are some things to keep in mind at the beginning of an event planning process that will help in the long run:

  • Figure out if you can replace any disposables with reusables, or at least reduce the disposables by selling some. 4 Peaks Music Festival encourages attendees to buy a souvenir Sillipint or bring their own, reducing a lot of potential cup waste.
  • If you don’t have reusables, you’ll need compostables. Almost all the items involved in disposable food and drink service is not recyclable locally (including plastic cups), so it’s all headed to the landfill. However, you can divert almost all of that by requiring your vendors to have commercially compostable food and cup ware, and providing compost bins.
  • Let vendors, organizations and other participants of your event know about your zero waste intentions and requirements up front. If even 1 food vendor doesn’t have compostable materials, it gets contaminated with plastic, and there is a good chance none of it can be composted.
  • Biodegradable is not the same as compostable. It has to be labeled “Commercially Compostable” for it to actually breakdown in the commercial composting system out at Knott Landfill that Deschutes Recycling operates.
  • Clearly label your bins. We have labels available for download or laminated ones to borrow.
  • Have clear signs on/above your bins. We have some available for download, laminated copies to borrow, or let us help you create ones specific to your event.
  • Always pair recycling bins with trash bins (or temporarily remove extra trash bins during the event).
  • Either staff waste stations with volunteers, have volunteers make rounds, or plan to sort through it later. If no one is monitoring it however, you will find compostable cups in all 3 bins, guaranteed. Keep in mind that people will also ignore signs and base their choice on what they see inside the bin, further contaminating everything.
  • Did we mention volunteers? 🙂

Still interested? Check out our Zero Waste Event page where you can download labels, signs, and our Guide to Hosting a Zero Waste Event.

Overwhelmed? New local business, The Broomsmen, has made it their business to provide the waste, recycling and composting set up and removal for events so that it is done properly, and you don’t have to deal with it.

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