How to Plan a Zero-Waste Event

Zero-waste events have become pretty popular, but what’s behind this hefty phrase?

Zero-Waste Events

Do we indeed have ZERO WASTE? No. The goal is not to eliminate waste, but to redesign the flow of products that are typically gone to waste, such as food scraps, paper products, recyclables, and liquids. In reality, we are reducing the amount of materials that end up in landfills and we are making a dent in the efforts to mitigate global warming and climate change.

Key Components and Terms

  • Source reduction
    • Products should have little to no packaging
    • If materials cannot be reused, recycled, or reused, then should not be purchased
  • Recycling: processes used materials into new products
  • Composting: turns organics such as food scraps, yard waste and paper back into soil
    • Mixing of landfill waste and food scraps generates methane
    • Composting is an important mitigation strategy for global warming
  • Liquid Diversion: diverts liquids from going to landfills beforehand to prevent groundwater contamination

Pre-Event Planning

  • Create a waste reduction goal
  • Venue selection
    • Near mass transit (train/bus) to avoid excess driving
    • Has its own recycling
    • Natural light, solar panels, or some sort of energy conservation plan
  • Have a paperless invitation or online registration for your guests
  • Minimize waste upstream
    • You must control all types of food generated at your event
    • Vendors must be part of the zero-waste plan
      • Provide an info packet with list of acceptable/prohibited items
        • AVOID: bottled water, prepackaged items, Styrofoam, plasticware
        • ALLOW: organics, paperware, aluminum cans, reusables like silverware
      • Food guidelines
        • Organic, locally-sourced, seasonal
      • Seal the deal with a Zero-Waste Contract
  • Education: know the difference between reusable, compostable, recyclable, and disposable
  • Publicity: campaign through your event’s social media instead of through paper
  • Supplies
    • Rent a Zero-Waste Station or a Resource Recovery Station
    • Compostable or reusable utensils/napkins/plates
    • Bags and gloves(not rubber gloves)
  • Map out where your Zero-Waste Stations will be located at the venue
  • Organize pick-ups for your bags at the end of the event (compost, recycling, landfill, reusables, liquids)

Setting up the Event

  • Remove all venue garbage bins
  • Set up all compost/recyclable/reusable/landfill/liquids stations
    • It helps to have different colored bags to keep track
  • Make sure signage is clear. Pictures help. Zero-waste infographics help.
  • Volunteers are helpful (make sure they’re trained and educated about zero-waste efforts!)
  • Have extra bags/gloves near the stations
  • Make sure all print-outs are double-sided on paper that is recycled, maybe even on soy or vegetable ink!
  • Instead of having the agenda on paper for everyone, have it projected on a wall or on an easel
  • Set up an area to keep all bags

During the Event

  • Check to make sure that the vendors didn’t bring non-compostable foods
  • Monitor the bins. Make sure the compost or recycle bin isn’t contaminated.
  • Replace bags as necessary
  • Educate the guests of the event
  • Showcase that your event is zero-waste. Celebrate it! Own it!
    • Explain what this means and what it entails for the attendees

Cleaning Up

  • Clean up
  • Encourage all attendees to take leftover food home in reusable containers
  • Donate untouched food
  • Make sure all bags are sent where they’re supposed to be sent


  • Send out a survey to volunteers/vendors/attendees to measure efficiency and effectiveness of the zero-waste event to improve for next year
    • Ask questions like the following to volunteers:
      • How contaminated were the compost and recycling bins on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the most contaminated?
      • Which areas of the facility were most underserved/monitored?
      • What was the level of engagement and excitement from the volunteers? (1-10)
      • How cooperative were the attendees? (1-10)
    • To vendors/attendees:
      • To what extent did you know about a zero-waste event?
      • Did this event help you understand more about zero-waste events?
      • How effective was the signage?
  • Create a report for your zero-waste event
    • Diversion Rate
    • Comments/feedback from everyone
    • Highlight your intentions
    • Cost-savings
  • Track all bags to make sure you ACTUALLY made this a zero-waste event
  • Publicize your success. Thank all attendees/volunteers/vendors who made the event successful

Case Studies