Go Zero Waste

Go Zero Waste2019-12-09T18:40:46+00:00

Go Zero Waste!

Want to hold a zero waste event? Check out this short guide for zero waste events with tips and tricks gathered from our years of experience working with events of all sizes.

Interested in learning more about what Zero Waste is? Hop over to our About Page and learn the basics of Zero Waste.

How to Zero Waste your Event

Zero Waste is an approach to resource management that conserves, repurposes and recycles what otherwise would be buried in a landfill. This material is them turned into valuable assets that contribute to environmental, economic and social well-being. A true zero waste event diverts 90% of all materials generated and discarded during an event from the landfill through reuse, composting or recycling. 

But how to get there?

This guide is a great place to start when thinking about going zero waste. For small events this might be enough to make a huge impact on your event’s waste.

For large events, these tips are a great place to start, but if you’re looking for a way to turn your zero waste dream into a realty check out our services page to learn more about what Zero Waste Event Productions can do for you.

Step 1) Plan Ahead

Think about all aspects of your event or festival, so you can determine what might need done to go zero waste.

Ask yourself:

  • What materials will be generated?
  • Will food be served?
  • Will materials be clean or dirty?
  • Who will help make this even zero waste?
  • What will we use to decorate?
  • How many people will be in attendance?
  • Who can haul the materials?
  • Will there be games or activities?
  • How will I advertise?
What "waste" might be generated at this event? Will food be served? Will drinks be served? Will there be water? Will there be coffee and therefore sugar, creamer, stirring stcicks? What decorations will we have (tablecloths, signs, ornaments, etc)? How much waste might be generated? How many people will be in attendance? When will most of the waste at the event be generated? Who is available to help with zero waste?

Step 2) Identify Possible Waste

Identify all of the possible waste materials that might be generated at your event. 

A picture of fruits and vegetables as an example of what might be considered compost
Three plastic water bottles lie in a pile.
A sketch of a trash can overflowing with indistinguishable true trash.
True Trash

Step 3) Reduce, then Reuse, then Recycle/Compost

Look at your waste materials and ask:

Can I reduce it?

A large trash can is shrinking down to a smaller trash can representing waste reduction.

Reduce Food Waste

According to the USDA 40% of food grown in the US is never eaten.

Here are some tips for minimizing food waste at your next event:

  • Get an accurate headcount of attendees, and plan food for that many people.
  • Serve plated meals as the preparer doesn’t serve more food than a person can eat.
  • In a buffet or potluck style meal-
    • Remind attendees to take small portions and come back for seconds.
    • Offer containers, or ask attendees to bring containers to take home leftover food.
  • Contact a local food rescue or homeless shelter to see if they take leftover food.
    • Packaged hot dog buns, hamburger buns, condiments, salads and unopened food can be given to those in need.
    • Learn more about The Good Samaritan Food Donation Act that covers goodwill food donations.
  • Learn more about reducing food waste with these resources from the EPA.

Reduce Single-Use Bottles

About 60 million water bottles are sent to the landfill every day.

You can decrease plastic waste at your event with these tips:

  • Ask attendees to bring their own water bottles or cups to avoid the need for single use bottles or styrofoam coffee cups.
  • Offer reusable cups or mugs.
  • Offer drinks in bulk
    • At large events, provide a water refill station
    • Have vendors provide discounts for individuals who bring a reusable coffee cup*
    • At smaller events a water cooler, coffee pot or pitcher will keep people’s bottles and cups full.

*Be sure to check local and state health codes in relation to reusable serviceware. Most states have no laws restricting drinking vessels from being reused at stores. 

Reduce Promotional Waste

Paper can only be recycled an average of 5-7 times before being trashed.

Reduce paper waste completely with these tips:

Promotional Waste:

  • Use e-mail, t.v. radio, and the internet to advertise your event.
  • For paper advertisments
    • Post one very visible flyer instead of handing out several smaller fliers.
    • Encourage people to take a picture of a paper ad on their phone instead of taking a paper copy that may only be looked at once before being discarded. 
    • Decrease invitation waste, by sending postcards instead of envelopes with an invitation inside.
    • Print fliers you plan to hang up on paper that has already been printed on one side.
  • Design event signs (sponsor signs, direction signs, informational signs) that can be stored and used year-after-year.
    • Cloth or vinyl signs with removable dates, times and other information can look good and be used year after year.

Conference Waste:

  • Project presentations onto a screen instead of printing out documents
  • Only hand out unnecessary papers if someone asks for them
  • Notify attendees of Zero waste goals, so they can work with the organizers to create a zero waste event.
  • Serve sugar and creamer in bulk to minimize single use sugar and creamer packet waste.
  • Have people take pictures of maps, and schedules to cut down on paper waste
  • Reuse nametags

Can I reuse it?

Three green arrows chase each other around a circle.

Reuse Dishware

It’s estimated that about 20,000 tons of EPS (styrofoam) products end up in the waste stream from a single metropolitan area in one year.

Reduce single-use dish ware at your event by:

  • Asking attendees to bring their own dishes
  • Borrowing or renting reusable dish ware
  • Worried about clean-up? Have the community help with cleanup
    • learn more about 3-bin cleaning systems here
  • Hand out cloth napkins that can be washed and reused.

Reuse Cups

Americans throw away 25 billion styrofoam cups every year, this doesn’t include countless solo or plastic cups.

Reduce single-use cups by:

  • Asking attendees to bring their own cups or coffee mugs.
    • If attendees need to purchase a drink, encourage reusable cups by offering a bring-your-own cup discount.
  • At small gatherings offer reusable coffee mugs.
  • At large events with drinks, sell reusable cup that can be kept as a souvenir after the event is over.

Reuse Decorations

  • Make signs that can be stored and used year after year.
  • Decorate naturally
    • Use flowers, rocks, and natural wreathes to decorate.
  • Use cloth table clothes
  • Get creative and make decorations and make use of second-hand or reused items.

Can I recycle/compost it?

A wooden compost bin overflows with compostable material including eggplants, tomatoes, fish bones, and apple cores.

Can I compost it?

Compost Serviceware

Compostable serviceware is a unique alternative to extruded polystyrene foam (styrofoam) or other petroleum-based products. Compostable products can be sent to certain compost facilities instead of being sent to the landfill. These products are often made of corn or potato meaning they’re made from renewable resources, and can be safely returned to the earth.

Unlike recyclable serviceware compostable serviceware doesn’t have to be cleaned of all food scraps before being composted as food is similarly biodegradeable. 

How to properly dispose of compostable serviceware:

Check with your local compost facility to make sure they accept compostable serviceware. Plastic compostables or PLA plastic often needs special treatment in a compost facility before it will break down properly.

Paper plates, bowls and cups can break down in many conditions including in backyard compost bins, as long as there is a reasonable mixture of green (food) and brown (paper/leaves) ratio. Learn more about backyard composting here: Composting Basics for Beginners

You can find more information about compostable products here: Biodegradable Products Institute

Want to buy compostable serviceware for your next event?

Not enough money for certified compostable products?

Cheap white paper plates with no color or glossy covering will break down in backyard compost bins as will plain paper napkins. It’s a great first step toward going zero waste!

Compostable Decorations

Natural or compostable decorations are a great alternative to single-use decorations such as balloons, vinyl tablecloths, and plastic decorations.

Natural decorations including flowers, wreathes, and rocks, can all be composted or put back into nature at the end of an event.

  • Put some zero waste Pintrest flair on your next event and aim to be able compost all your decoration: Zero Waste Party Ideas
  • Some more nature based alternatives to balloons can be found here: Balloonsblow

Some papers and other fiber-based decorations are compostable or biodegradable, including certain types of confetti. Keep this in mind when planning your next event. 

Compost Leftover food

Lack of oxygen (anaerobic) conditions in a landfill can cause decomposing food to turn into methane, a greenhouse gas 23x as potent as CO2. Avoid contributing food to the landfill by composting as much food waste from your event as possible. 

In a compost bin or compost facility food breaks down more effectively and creates a byproduct that is helpful to communities (fertilizer).

Composting food scraps at your event is simple.

First learn what you can compost:

  • Do you have your own compost bin? What can and can’t you take.
  • Hauling compost to a local facility? What do they take? Sometime concerns about rodents, smells, or bugs means facilities will not take certain food scraps including oils, meat, and dairy.

Next, set out bins to collect waste:

  • For small events
    • A five gallon bucket or one gallon ice-cream container next to a dishwashing station or trash bin is suffient for collecting food scraps.
    • Have good signage with words and pictures explaining what goes where, or station a volunteer next to the bin to help people scrape their plates.
  • For large events
    • Scale bins by size of event. Be careful if you’re collecting in bags, as food waste is heavy and a full 33 gallon bag could weigh up to 50 lbs.
    • Have good signage with words and pictures explaining what goes where.
    • Have volunteers sort through bags to check for contamination. Most compost facilities only accept a small percentage of contamination (<.5%), and this is the most effective way to make sure your material is clean.
A blue recycling bin overflows with recycling including newspapers, aluminum cans, and glass bottles.

Can I recycle it?

Recycle serviceware

Bottles and Cans – 

Bottles and cans are easily recyclable and can be collected in recycling bins at your event.


Extruded polystyrene foam (Styrofoam), paper coffee cups, and plastic cups like solo cups are only recyclable in certain areas. Check with your hauler or recycling center to see what they take when you’re deciding what products to have at your event.

Consider compostable or reusable cups.

Bowls and Plates

Plastic bowls and plates are only recyclable in certain areas, and only if they are clean. Check with your hauler or recycling center to see what they take when you’re deciding what products to have at your event.

Consider compostable or reusable plates, and bowls.

Plastic silverware

Plastic knives, spoons, and forks are only recyclable in certain areas, and only if they are clean. Check with your local recycling facility to see if they accept plastic silverware.

Consider compostable or reusable silverware.

A note on contamination

Food is the number 1 contaminant at recycling centers.

Contamination in a load of recycling can make it impossible for a recycling center to sell their product meaning an entire load of recycling could be taken to the landfill instead of properly recycled. You may save an entire load of recycling by simply throwing out a dirty plate before it reached their system.

Paper, extruded polystyrene foam (styrofoam) and plastic cups, plates and bowls are often too contaminated to be recycled. If your recycling center accepts plastic or paper plates, be sure to clean them of all food contaminants before recycling. 

Compost and Recycling Tips and Tricks

Outside Resources




For Fun

Avoiding work? So are we. Enjoy these fun recycling-based games to pass the time.

Two bins sit next to one another, one is labeled with a trash bin and the other is labeled with the recycling symbol.
Pair Your Bins
A clipboard holds a sheet of paper with checkmarks down the right side indicating everything has been done.
Double Check
A stylized green recycling symbol sits against a square background.
Post Clear Signage
A red recycling or trash truck.
Know Your Hauler

Outside Resources




For Fun

Avoiding work? So are we. Enjoy these fun recycling-based games to pass the time.