Reducing Waste at Events

The Goal

The Solid Waste Alliance Communities (SWAC) is committed to reducing wasted materials everywhere. There are many considerations that go into hosting a “waste-free” event.

Think back to the last time you cleaned up after a party. How many trash bags filled with napkins, plates, silverware, and cups did you toss out? If it was a birthday party, you probably added wrapping paper (most of which can’t be recycled), party hats, balloons, and broken or discarded party favors to that trash as well.

Most of us probably don’t give much thought to what is tossed away, but all of that trash is having an impact on animals and our environment. In the U.S., we dispose of 500 million plastic straws, and 50 billion water bottles annually — every minute, one million disposable cups are tossed into the trash. Every year, about 8.8 million tons of this plastic trash ends up in the ocean, where it photodegrades over time and turns into microplastics that are virtually impossible to clean up. Microplastics are incredibly harmful to animals, and over 700 marine species are currently in danger of extinction because of plastic pollution. Plastics also litter our beaches, contaminate drinking water, and harm seabirds and wildlife.

There’s no reason to purchase disposable cups, plates, and plastic cutlery when the real things will work just fine. And the bonus is you won’t have to worry about soggy plates or flimsy silverware that breaks when you try to cut into something. If you don’t have access to items from home, you can opt for compostable dinnerware — just make sure you compost it instead of placing it with your regular trash. You can also utilize party rental companies to provide dinnerware and linens for larger events and parties.

Planning a Waste-Free Menu

How to Host a Zero-Waste Party – With a bit of planning and prep work, you can easily create a menu that’s completely waste-free. The first step is to steer clear of prepared items like dips, party trays, and snack items that are packaged in plastic. There are plenty of fun dips you can make at home, as well as finger foods and appetizers that will wow your guests.

If you’re doing a potluck-style party, have guests bring their meals in glass serving bowls and dishes with lids. It eliminates waste and keeps cleanup easier on your end. Also remind guests to bring a reusable container to take home leftovers or special treats you’ve prepared

Decorating Tips

Add a bit of elegance to your décor by ditching the plastic tablecloths for fabric. Pick different colors and types of fabric for an eclectic look that will brighten up the space for your guests. Finish the look with plants or fresh flowers from your garden or local farmers’ market, and use jars and vases from your home to create a fun mix-and-match look.

Hang banners made out of fabric or scraps of wrapping paper to add a festive look, and use party lights or homemade candles to add subtle lighting. Your local thrift store is a great place to find inexpensive fabric tablecloths and napkins, as well as jars that can be used to hold flowers, candles, silverware, and napkins.

Designated Bins

A common misconception is that food waste or items marked as biodegradable and compostable will break down right away when they’re placed in the landfill, but that’s not the case. The layers of compacted trash in landfills prevent oxygen from circulating, meaning these items can take years, if not longer, to break down.

To eliminate landfill waste, have guests place all recyclables, food scraps, and other compostable items in designated bins to be placed in your home composting bin or taken for recycling with your other recyclables.

Low Waste Planning Tips

  1. Include and inform everyone involved with the event planning about low waste practices and goals.
  2. Develop a waste reduction plan that provides waste reduction for both public areas and private areas such as kitchens.
  3. Work with food vendors and encourage appropriate portion control to minimize food waste. Request food vendors work with local food donation programs to handle any excess unserved food.
  4. Select food vendors that offer the use of washable plates, silverware and linens OR;
  5. Choose reusable plates, utensils, cups and packaging whenever possible.
  6. Select venues, including outdoor venues, which offer paper, metal, plastic and glass recycling, along with food waste collection in both public and private (kitchen) preparation areas. Choose locations where the cleanup crews are trained to keep recyclable and reusable items out of the garbage OR;
  7. Plan ahead, and if needed, hire pick up services for proper collection and disposal of recycling, trash and compostables.
  8. If it is not possible to use reusable items, choose recyclable or compostable containers or minimally packaged goods instead.
  9. Think of tasks that create the most waste and brainstorm ways to reduce them.
  10. Confirm what can and cannot be recycled or composted and communicate it with everybody involved in the event, including vendors and attendees.
  11. Use technology to reduce waste at your event. This could include online registrations, advertising, and downloadable online material. Encourage conference presenters to make their material available for online download.
  12. If printed materials are needed, use recycled paper, and utilize double-sided printing. Ask event attendees to bring business cards for insertion into reusable name tag holders instead of printing nametags.
  13. Create “sorting stations” with one recycling bin, one compost container, and one trash can at each. This makes it easy for guests to sort their materials properly. Create an event waste reduction handout that shows number and placement of bins. Make sure the bins are clearly labeled.
  14. Make sure the recycling and composting options are promoted and clearly marked during the event to encourage proper use of all the containers.
  15. Choose decorations and display materials that can be reused or recycled.
  16. Make a hydration station using a large vessel for self serve water. This encourages hydro flask and reuseable glasses, while eliminating the need to buy bottled water.

Working Towards a Greener Lifestyle


State of Vermont list of Mandatory Recyclables

In Vermont, it is illegal to send recyclables to the landfill. They must be separated from the trash and recycled at a facility approved to accept recyclables. Here is a list of items that are required to be recycled.

  • Glass food & beverage containers. Without lids.
  • Plastic food & beverage containers. Without lids. Clean, plastic lids at least 2” in diameter are recyclable.
  • Metal food & beverage containers. No bottle caps or other metal objects.
  • Aluminum foil, pie plates, etc.
  • Paper used for communication.
  • Cardboard — corrugated, boxboard. Flatten. Must be clean & dry.

NOT recyclable • Paper cups, plates, bowls, napkins • Disposable cutlery • Straws/coffee stirrers • Wooden utensils, toothpicks • Plastic bags/wrappers • Waxed paper wrappings and bags • Any item that has food residue


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