Four Tips for Creating a Zero Waste Event

As humans’ negative impact on the environment continues to surge and the effects of climate change grow more severe, it becomes clearer every day that a monumental shift in how we approach sustainability — and waste in particular — is crucial. Consider the National Resources Defense Council’s research on food waste, which shows that up to 40 percent of food in the United States is wasted, contributing to extensive environmental, economic and social repercussions. It’s an issue that affects every citizen of planet Earth, but given what we do for a living, a large amount of responsibility is being placed on event marketers when it comes to reimagining (and implementing) sustainable practices.

From repurposing food scraps to utilizing eco-friendly exhibit materials, and everything in between, today’s event profs are aiming not only to reduce waste at their live experiences, but in many cases, to eliminate it altogether. Just getting started? Check out the following four tips for creating zero waste events.

1. Partner Up

There are countless organizations dedicated to eliminating waste in all of its forms, and teaming up with one (or more) of them can go a long way. They are, after all, experts in sustainable best practices and ways to approach building zero waste events. Subaru, for instance, works with TerraCycle, the world’s leader in collecting and repurposing complex waste streams, reducing hard-to-recycle waste and enhancing sustainable event practices, at all of its American Rally Association events. The partnership allows fans visiting the brand’s Motorsports USA service area to recycle disposable cups, lids, straws and snack wrappers, which are then turned into products like park benches and picnic tables. In addition, Subaru is working with TerraCycle and Vermont SportsCar to explore and pilot new recycling initiatives for auto parts, like air filters and wiper blades. (Bonus: Attendees who can’t make a live rally event are encouraged by the automaker to collect their own waste streams at home or the office and bring them to one of 588 participating Subaru retailers for recycling.) Talk about taking the right steps to creating zero waste events.

2. Implement Water Conservation Tactics

The PGA Tour’s Waste Management Phoenix Open is a stellar example when looking at zero waste events. The annual zero waste event has recycled, composted, donated or reused more than 6.4 million pounds of waste since 2013. A key part of the event’s sustainable strategy is a commitment to conserving water. Organizers implement conservation measures to ensure water is used responsibly on-site, and limit pressures on the municipal water supply. To make it happen, hand-washing stations feature hand sanitizer instead of water, while water used for cooking and cleaning is reused in the event’s portable toilets.

To further reduce water waste, particularly at b-to-b events, consider serving chicken or fish instead of beef. Beef has a massive ecological impact — it has the largest water footprint out of all types of meat, taking 1,800 gallons of water per pound. All things to keep in mind when you’re looking to create zero waste events.

3. Enlist Zero Waste Station Attendants

Most attendees want to contribute to a brand’s sustainable efforts, but they often lack the knowledge necessary to do so. This can be remedied by employing zero waste stations monitored by well-informed attendants. Sometimes building zero waste events is as simple as directing people to the appropriate bin, whether it’s for recycling, composting or donating.

“At a food festival or another type of event where there are a wide variety of disposable products that end up in the hands of event attendees — they really need help,” says Meredith Danberg-Ficarelli, director at Common Ground Compost. “It’s not their fault; it’s that materials right now are just very confusing. Having educated zero waste station attendants will allow attendees to have a more seamless process. It’s also a learning opportunity, whether it’s just for those people to properly dispose of their materials, or for them to learn about where to compost at home.”

4. Choose an Eco-Friendly Venue

It’s hard to create zero waste events or zero waste environments if the venue isn’t as committed to sustainability as the brand hosting it. There are plenty of venues dedicated to reducing the ecological impact of events, so vet your options before making a choice. San Francisco’s Moscone Center, for example, features the largest rooftop solar array in the city and zero waste stations located in all of the venue’s public spaces. What’s more, Moscone works exclusively with catering partner Savor, which uses 100 percent compostable food service ware and donates all unused food. Another venue, the 18th Room in New York City, offers a zero waste bar program — a fast-growing trend. As part of the initiative, bartenders use as much of a cocktail ingredient as they can, and share ingredients with the kitchen staff.

When it comes to zero waste events, eliminating, or at the very least reducing, event waste is no longer an optional add-on for event marketers; it’s essential. With climate change intensifying, and millennials and Gen Z demanding sustainable experiences, brands have little choice in the matter if they want to remain relevant and respected. You know what they say: waste not, want not.

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Posted by Dyan Cornacchio | Request as a Speaker

Social media and creative writing connoisseur. Obsessed with my golden retriever, pop culture, and pizza. Nothing makes me happier than being home on LI, relaxing at the beach with my family.