Dear Eartha: How Can I Make My Events Zero Waste?

 In Ask Eartha

Dear Eartha, I saw all the people in green shirts helping with recycling at the Frisco BBQ, and now I’m feeling inspired. I’m planning an event this summer – how do I make it zero waste? – John, Breckenridge

John, as you know, summer is events season in Summit County! I’m so excited to read that you’re interested in making your event a zero waste affair. No matter the event scope, some pre-planning can go a long way in keeping waste out of the landfill.

Size it up

When you say “event” are you talking about grandpa’s birthday, a church picnic or the next great beer festival? All are candidates for zero waste efforts, just know that your plan will be different based on the number of expected attendees. No matter the size, it’s wise to offer only recyclable products. Even better? Go reusable whenever possible.

If you’re expecting fewer than 50 people, you’ll likely provide recycling containers (as simple as cardboard boxes) and bring materials to the local recycling center, where you’ll separate items into large dumpsters. This is still an option for events over 50 people, of course, but self-sorting recyclables from dozens of people could be pretty time consuming. If you expect more than 50, it’s time to start weighing the options. If applicable, talk to the staff at your venue or work with town officials during your event permitting process – they may offer access to single stream (comingled) recycling, provided you are set up to collect it.

When you start serving upwards of 150 people, say at a race or festival, consider contracting directly with a waste service provider. Some businesses simply haul your recyclables out, while others provide bins, staff and educational services. Contact the local non-profit High Country Conservation Center (HC3) for a complete list of services and businesses.

Create a plan

Some towns require a waste plan as part of the event permitting process. Even when not required, it’s a good idea to have one. The plan should include where you’re locating waste stations and how many you’ll need. Think about the flow of your event, and when and where people are disposing of waste.

Also, consider how you’re hauling materials (DIY to a recycling center or through a contracted service). This will inform what you’ll be collecting and how many different bins you need at each waste station.

Labels matter

Once you know how many waste stations you need and where they will be located, make sure you tell people what goes where. Labels and signs are a great way to do this. It’s important that your labels match what’s accepted at local recycling centers or in comingled recycling. For example, glass is not accepted in single stream recycling here in Summit County.

If you’re creating signs for a small event, HC3 offers free downloadable signs or you can get inexpensive stickers through Recycle Across America. If you are expecting any materials that might be confusing – for example, milk cartons – tape an example right on the relevant sign.

Communicate

For large events with food and drink vendors, you’ll want to create a purchasing policy. This could include things like only offering #1 plastic cups instead of “compostable” cups. While “compostable” sounds good, these items are not accepted in Summit County’s composting program (in other words, they’re trash).

When it comes to serving food, use products made from recyclable materials. Event directors could ban single serve packets or even consider a zero waste deposit, refundable only to vendors who comply with the purchasing policy.

Whatever policy you put in place, it’s essential that you let vendors know about your zero waste efforts, any policies they need to follow and give plenty of time for compliance. And, make sure staff, cleaning crews and contractors know how to do their part.

Tips for success

You mentioned the volunteers at the Frisco BBQ Challenge. These folks are a MAJOR part of the success – 47 percent diversion in 2019! If you can, recruit volunteers to assist with waste during the event. This is much easier than picking out contamination after the fact.

Finally, take pride in your efforts! Whether a backyard bash or a full-on festival, zero waste is something we should strive for during all our events. So get your kids, neighbors, employees, vendors, and haulers involved, and celebrate the fact that summertime partying doesn’t have to mean heaps of trash in the landfill.

The 2019 Frisco BBQ Challenge diverted 47 percent of event waste from the landfill, thanks to an ongoing partnership between the Town of Frisco and High Country Conservation Center, and the support of countless barbecue volunteers and attendees.

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