8 Tips for a Planning a Zero Waste Event

The aftermath of an event in a beautiful, historical museum in Ottawa.

Events can be extremely wasteful. As fun as they are.

And I think it may be because of the changes I’ve made in my life (hm, you think?) but I can’t seem to help my brain from automatically assessing and analyzing ways to be less wasteful, whether I’m in a restaurant, at home, at my grocery store or in this particular photo – an event.

Sadly the impacts of the event on the environment is rarely considered and is often overlooked by how much money one will make. That’s pretty much we got into this mess in the first place. Of course there are the few percentage of businesses that actually do care and carefully consider their actions. They help to pave the way for others and are in most cases, the very people that will make change happen on a broader scale.

Image credit

Now we do have to remember that change can only happen if it is allowed, if the person is willing or if the people at the top care to make it happen. And often change is easily accepted if it’s easy to make the changes, or it’s proven that said change is beneficial or in cases of business, economical. In other words – they need the answer to: am I going to be making money by making this change or will I be losing it?

Perhaps what we need to include into this question is – what are the long-term benefits? How will this impact the business and our community?


Anyway, all of this to say, it’s made me realize that events can be done better.
Whatever size the event, there are always ways to make it less wasteful and costly to the environment.

Here are my 7 Tips to consider when planning an event:

    1. Ditch the single use plastic cups already. 
      I’ve been at enough drinking events where instead of the typical single use cups, there are metal tumblers instead so don’t tell me it can’t be done. I’ve even took the liberty of costing some out based on the event where that photograph is taken. There were 2000 people in attendance.

      Cost of 2000 20oz clear plastic cups (through ULINE) approx: $504+ tax
      If you’re having a monthly event you’re spending that each time.
      Over a course of a year, you’ve spent: $6048.00+tax
      Cost of 2000 160z (customized metal tumblers through STEELYS): approx. $6000+tax

      Sure the metal cups are 4oz smaller, but at least it’s a one time purchase and you can reuse them.

      Another alternative is to source a venue that offers all kitchenware with their rental, but obviously depending on the type of event, it may not be suitable.

      That being said, you could go also go with plastic cups that can be reused, like the kind they have at bars and restaurants. While you all know plastic isn’t my favourite, at least they aren’t one time use.

    2. Paper towels for drying hands in the bathroom can be composted.
      One of the community centres I go to has a green bin placed directly under the paper towel roll. So people wash, dry and immediately discard it into the green bin rather than a garbage. Doesn’t that make more sense? Automatically you’ve also made someone be more mindful because they have to look at a composting bin in the first place and because it’s so unusual (sadly) it makes them contemplate life. Well maybe not life, but garbage for a brief moment.

      If you’re a smaller event, just have a stack of hand towels or cloth napkins and a basket that people can toss them in so they can be washed for later.

    3. Don’t serve food in single use plastic containers

      Of course the best option is to have reusable plates and if you’re worried about breakage, you could choose the plastic or metal option that can be washed and reused.

      You could also serve your food in recycled, brown cardboard boxes like these ones. And be weary about what is compostable. There are some “biodegradable” packaging that our dear ol’ city of Ottawa won’t process because of the PLA lining. The ones I linked aren’t bleached or coated so you’d want to find something like that.

      You could also offer an incentive to your guests that if they have their own container, they can get a discount when they purchase food.

    4. Make a rule like the National Parks do – Come but leave it cleaner than it was before. As in, your garbage goes home with you.

      Yeah, yeah you lazy, spoiled whiners who can’t bare the thought of lugging around your own waste with you. Aside from the National Parks, huge events like Burning Man have this rule and to me it makes perfect sense. It makes you think twice about what you’re bringing in to the event and makes the clean up less costly and more time efficient for the organizers of the event.

    5. Use a stamp instead of a bracelet.
      Stamps are more cost effective. You can even make your own ink pad. Those event bracelets are super annoying and you’re forced to wear them or you can’t get in or stay in. Sure some people copy their stamps on to someone else, but there are people who also squeeze out of their bracelets and pass them on to another, so that’s just a risk you take when you have an event.

      But the solution to that just make your event a no re-entry party. As in, if you leave the premises you can’t come back in. What about smoking? Quit smoking or hold your addiction for 3 hours. A regularly occurring monthly night event in Ottawa has that rule and 2000 party-goers complied.

    6. Make it easy for party-goers to recycle.
      People are lazy. If you have a garbage, put a recycling bin next to it. One for paper. One for plastic. One for food waste. Line your food waste bin with a paper bag or newspaper so you can avoid those so called biodegradable plastic bags. If you’re an entrepreneur you could actually turn that food waste into a profit, like Zero To Go.
    7. Have a water refill station to avoid plastic water bottles.

      Hey, those metal tumblers can come in handy here. I was at a three day event where boxes of plastic water bottles was distributed the entire time. And finally the last day they brought out a huge water dispenser and filled it up with tap water and put out (single-use) plastic cups. They were trying at least….? The point is, there are so many variations of water dispensers that there should never be plastic bottles of water.

      You can also provide reusable water bottles. Which could be a give away/free item. And if all else fails, at the very least you can go with Boxed Water. (That link outlines if it’s actually better). At least they don’t make claims on their water and are straight up about it being municipal water aka tap water.

    8. If you’re giving away swag, make it useful and source it from a ethical company.
      One event I went to recently, there were moments when everyone had to be outside. It’s winter where I am, for free swag they gave out toques. In this example, if you don’t want the toque, you can at least give it away to someone in need.

      Things that are useful are more appreciated. Something like soap is easily obtained without any packaging. You can even make things yourself easily and package it waste free. Like chocolate.

      Another alternative is using the money that would be for swag, to donate to a charity. One wedding I attended had a simple note (a seed bomb on top of that) that said, “Instead of giving you something, we’ve made a donation to charity x, in your name.”

      People feel pretty fantastic knowing they’ve somehow made a contribution.

  1. water dispenser.png
    Image credit

Of course each event is unique and different changes can be implemented. But the point is every time you put on an event you don’t have to be like everyone else and do what’s normal and average. It doesn’t take much effort to be a little more thoughtful about the impact to the environment when you’re planning your event. Sure people think it’s more costly, but in the long run the bottom line is: your event can either contribute to waste issues and climate change or it can be an example of how to be more mindful and be part of the change for the better.

Regardless, we kind of need a planet in order to plan and have a party in the first place.




Published by Mailyne

Owner of DLG Media. Founder of A.R.T. in Action. Philanthropist. Environmentalist. Activist. Photographer. Video Producer. Writer. Artist. Mama.

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