Tackling a Zero Waste Event

You have an upcoming event that will have vendors, talent, and of course attendees. You have organized the meeting space, audio/visual, catering, and more…but what about the waste produced from the event? Have you thought about the impact of the amount of waste an event generates?

Quick example: the NFL regular season has 256 games with each game averaging 67,000 in attendance. Multiply that by an average of 0.3 pounds of waste generated per person at a sporting event and you get a mammoth 5.1 million pounds of trash each season! Now, think about all the events that people love to attend in a year – concerts, festivals, fairs, conferences, sporting events, etc. – and you get the picture. It’s a lot of waste.

While zero waste is challenging, there are plenty of benefits: economic (reduced trash bill), environmental (diverting materials for reuse/recycling/composting), and reputational (building rapport with your attendees and vendors). You may not be organizing an event the size of an NFL game, but your event can have a positive impact.

Quick Tips for Planning a Zero Waste Event

Understand the Waste Stream

Offering coffee service? Is that caffeine fix being conveyed to your attendees via a cup that is disposable, compostable, or reusable? Using outside vendors? What is their waste stream like? You should think about every aspect of waste at the event – from sugar packets and napkins, to plastic bottles and excess food. Then, identify if there are simple changes that can be made to prevent waste and employ reusable items. 

Know Where It’s Going 

As you start planning which eco-friendly items you want to use at your event, confirm what’s accepted at the recycling and composting facilities in your region. You may need to contact the venue waste hauler or make arrangements for a special pick-up/drop-off. Remember, not all facilities will take serviceware marked “compostable” or all containers with the #1-#7 chasing arrows symbol. Additionally, determine if there are any food donation programs or food banks in the area for excess food. 

Invest in Proper Infrastructure

Be sure to place trash, recycling, and composting collection bins together near the food tables and in high traffic areas to offer a convenient one-stop solution. 

Use clear and consistent signage on collection bins to help your attendees select the right bin.


Train event staff to be zero waste ambassadors! They should know what materials go in each bin, their location, and how the materials will eventually be handled. 

Pre-promote your event as zero waste in event flyers, website, social media, and advertising. Prepare your attendees to be a part of your environmental success.

Make announcements during the event to remind attendees to help you make your event a zero waste success.

Final Takeaway

When it’s all over and you’re ready to put your feet up after a successful event, there are still a few more steps to take. Measure what you have accomplished. How much waste was diverted from the landfill? How much food was donated? Post your success on your event website and social media for attendees to see. Sharing and celebrating how everyone’s efforts to prevent and divert waste will help attendees, staff, and vendors take the reduce, reuse, and recycle mindset home with them! 

Kate Maguire is a consultant with RRS. With more than 6 years of field research, data analysis, and computer modeling experience, Kate has worked on projects developing and improving recycling programs, glass recovery strategies, composting opportunities, and facility improvements. She enjoys the outdoors and reading. Contact Kate at [email protected]