College campuses go beyond the classrooms and facilities. Most college campuses have athletic events, conferences, festivals, workshops, and meetings on a regular basis. All of these types of gatherings have the potential to generate large amounts of waste, including food and beverage waste, paper, and beyond.
These gatherings present a wonderful opportunity for campus recycling programs to visibly reduce waste, institute compostable material collections, educate the campus community and demonstrate cost savings. There are many other subtle benefits from these practices such as overall cleaner grounds, reduced clean-up costs, and involvement of volunteers.
There are many strategies and considerations in creating an events waste reduction effort. Each event has different variables, generates different types of trash, and has various focuses. There is no blanket set of procedures for maximizing waste reduction and recovery. It is important to take a look at each type of event and make a determination from there.
General Guidelines for Events Waste Reduction and Recovery Prior to Event:
I. Get a list of Annual and Special Events
Get monthly lists of all on-campus events from the campus scheduling office. Ask for the recycling program to be put on a mailing list to receive calendars or find out another way to stay current on events, such as through on-line calendars.
II. Waste Assessment for Events
Create a spreadsheet that can act as a waste assessment tool and tracking mechanism. This tool can be used to organize, plan ahead, track materials recovered, and provide a historical perspective or review for future implementation.
Sections to include in your assessment:
Ideally, the best scenario is to set up waste recovery as a regular part of events, especially athletics. Coordinate efforts with outside haulers. Work with the Athletics Department personnel to handle collection if possible. Whenever possible, minimize the amount of extra planning needed to provide a service.
III. Preliminary Contacts
Be aware of scheduled campus events. At least one month prior to each event, make contact with the event coordinators and meet with them to discuss waste management needs.
Ideally, after doing one event, the coordinators will integrate waste management into the future event planning. Encourage event organizers to contact the recycling program prior to future events. Contact all secondary haulers as needed.
IV. Create Events Operations Manual and Set-up Kit
Incorporate an event assessment sheet into a manual. For larger events, create a separate notebook to collect all of the information related to the event including: successful past strategies, material tracking, volunteer list, contract information, etc.
V. Promotion and Education
Prior to events (especially larger events with food vendors) create a vendor guide to waste reduction. Incorporate this into any preliminary contracts so as to create a clear requirement for vendors to follow.
During events, have well signed waste recovery stations. Place these signs above the crowd so that stations can be easily identified during the event. A good idea is to have wooden stanchions at each site with a simple identification sign: “Events Waste Recovery Station.”
Make sure to have recycling and compostables stations at all garbage cans, and likewise have garbage cans at all recycling stations.
For places where there are permanent garbage cans, but no recycling collection, cover the trash cans during the events and put a sign on the covering that says something like “Please help us reduce waste, utilize Event Waste Recovery Stations for your disposal needs”.
As is possible, make announcements during the event to encourage people to help out by recycling and composting. Announcers at athletic events and festivals are usually happy to help.
Encourage waste reduction at all events. Ask event promoters to sell reusable mugs or encourage folks to bring their own to the event. Some events will even be promoted as not providing disposables, but having refillable mugs available for purchase if an attendee does not bring his/her own. This will help both with advertising the event and reducing waste.
II. Collection and Maintenance
III. Tear Down and Clean-up
From Recycling to Compostables to Reusables: The Road to Zero Waste Events
It is important to start with a pilot project, establish the idea of waste recovery at events, and continue to incorporate further waste reduction activities as when opportunities arise. There are different variables to consider with each type of event; determine a course of action based upon support from the event organizers.
When reducing waste at athletic events, consider that distinct materials will be generated depending on locations (e.g. stadium, beer garden, sky boxes, and parking lot). Incorporating cardboard recycling into all athletic events is standard. Evaluate the types of materials generated at athletic events, propose waste reduction strategies (bulk condiments for example), and encourage the Athletics Department to purchase compostable cups (especially in beer garden areas). Though outside drinks are prohibited, encourage the Athletics Department to allow the Campus Recycling Program to establish collection sites around the stadium for newspapers, event programs, bottles/cans, and compost.
Participate in the clean-up process, and then evaluate additional recovery possibilities. During the clean-up process evaluation, take an overview of the items collected, estimate percentages of the waste stream made up by each category of recyclable, and propose a trial run where the clean-up crews are divided into teams. Have each team collect one type of item: newspaper/events brochures/recyclable pressboard coffee carriers, bottles/cans, compostable cups, and garbage. When these are in bags, determine the percentage of waste stream composed by each item.
Demonstrate the benefits of this process to the Athletics Department and work with personnel to encourage expanded waste recovery programs during games. Some schools (e.g.
Ideally, the best scenario is to set up waste recovery as a regular part of the events, especially athletics. Coordinate the efforts and have outside haulers handle as much of the collection as possible with assistance from Athletics Department personnel to centralize materials. Minimize the amount of extra planning and work done by the Campus Recycling Program.
Work with events planners to reduce waste prior to events. The best way to approach this is through the vendors. Create a waste reduction plan for vendors that will be incorporated into the event contract. Ideally, this will encourage vendors to generate items that are compatible with the event waste collection system.
Incorporate existing campus recycling collection procedures into events recycling. Generally, all events generate paper, bottles, and cans. This seems simple, but is a good place to start. For larger events, incorporate all of the “kitchen recyclables” into a vendor waste recovery station. Locate this in the food vendor area of the event. Materials that are frequently generated include: cardboard, low grade paper, plastics, metals, and glass.
If the school already has a composting program, then a mechanism already exists to include compostable materials in the collection system. Composting has been evolving and special events are a good opportunity to incorporate additional materials. With the development of new biodegradable foodware products, many campuses are looking at utilizing these items for events (and incorporating them into food service areas as well).
If there is not a food waste composting program on campus, check with local forest products companies to see if they would work with the Campus Recycling Program to recover compostables at events. Many forest products companies consistently need more soil amendment materials and thus are looking for ways to increase their yields through food waste and other compostables.
Before buying expensive compostable food ware, consider the inherent biodegradability of conventional disposable food ware such as paper plates, napkins, chopsticks, and waxed paper cups. Specially designed compostable food ware is not always necessary. It is expensive and requires a change in thinking and purchasing practices for the event and vendors. This could be a hard sell, so start with items that are already biodegradable and focus on waste reduction (eliminate lids and straws for example). To ease collection, purchase cornstarch bags or use plastic bags that can be easily emptied onto a compost pile as these will not degrade and will be a contaminant in the composting process. (See also Chapter 14: Bioplastics,)
When shifting to a compostables collection, maximize the potential for success in this program by utilizing monitors at each collection site. This will help reduce contamination, ensure proper disposal and educate the public.
Be sure to track the collection of all recyclables/compostables. By incorporating compostables, there will be a noticeable reduction of materials being disposed of as trash.
If possible, set up a list of acceptable items for vendors. Remember that not all paper plates are just paper; some have plastic, non-compostable liners. Work with local food ware distributors and industrial composters to identify what foodware is compatible with the campus waste recovery system and try and offer a vendor discount through the distributor.
The Ultimate: Reusables
The largest percentage of an event's waste stream comes from plates and cups. Encourage people to bring their own refillable mugs for drinks; this will have a huge impact on waste reduction at an event. If it is not possible to eliminate disposable cups as part of an event, work with event organizers to provide a discount for those using refillable containers. Do not forget to promote this as people like the idea of saving money by using refillables. Provide reusable cups if possible and waste will be reduced. Offer refillable mugs for sale at events. This will generate money for the recycling effort as well as the event and will provide an opportunity to educate the public.
The next challenge is plates. Disposable plates make up the largest single item in the waste stream at events that provide food. The largest challenge in switching to reusables is in washing the tableware. For events that are held in areas where there is access to a dishwasher, evaluate whether there is an opportunity to borrow, rent, or purchase reusable plates (preferably plastic or melmack). This is a labor intensive process, so before making a decision, assess labor needs, facilities, and availability of plates to institute this practice.
As with other events, reduce garbage collection areas and consolidate into waste recovery stations. Create public waste recovery stations to collect recyclables, compostables, and dirty plates. For plate collection, be sure to have rolling toters for portability and ease in swapping containers. Designate a crew specifically for collecting toters of plates, washing dishes, and restocking plates for food vendors. This can be difficult to do at free events. Ideally, charging a deposit will ensure that the program does not loose plates and that replacement costs will be covered in the event that plates are lost. Be sure to periodically survey trash cans to find any stray reusable plates and forks that inadvertently get tossed in the trash instead of the reuse bin.
Charging Vendors an Environmental Deposit and Fee
Consider charging vendors a two-part deposit: one part is refundable; the other is a charge for the waste services. When vendors leave events, they often are tired and want to get home as fast as possible. Often this manifests as a “dump and run” mentality. The refundable part of the deposit will be returned to the vendor at the end of the event upon check-out of the vendor's booth. This will create an incentive for vendors to clean up in order to receive refunds. The non-refundable part of the deposit will be an environmental fee used to fund waste recovery efforts. By using reusable tableware, food vendors can save money by reducing the costs spent on disposables. This fee will help offset the large labor costs of successfully managing reduced-waste events.
Using Volunteer Help
Volunteers are plentiful on college campuses and in the surrounding communities. Also, many towns have volunteer organizations that are happy to participate in an events waste recovery program. They get to participate in a community event that creates visibility for their organization, gives them free entry to the event (football games are particularly popular), and gives them a sense of satisfaction from doing something that is making a difference.
For larger events, create a training program for the volunteers. Be organized and thorough. Follow through with a survey for volunteers at the end of the event in order to receive their valuable feedback. If possible, especially at larger events, give volunteers t-shirts, mugs, a token item, or free food to thank them for their effort and help in making the event a success.
When doing general promotional events on campus, it is always good to get a list of folks who want to volunteer. There are a lot of students who are interested in being involved. Likewise, this experience is valuable in teaching students how to apply waste reduction strategies in other areas outside of campus and garner support for a recycling program.
Well Worth the Effort
Managing waste at events is a big job. Events are highly visible opportunities for colleges to educate the public and make a positive difference in the community. Gather data at events to demonstrate that waste diversion efforts DO work and make a big difference!
Events are a great place to test out more intense waste recovery efforts that can be applied back to the general college waste stream. Learn from events waste reduction and transfer these lessons to the everyday waste management operations. Use this information to evaluate and improve recovery in food service areas that have become increasingly geared toward fast food and disposables. Additionally, events waste reduction efforts are opening the door to the next horizon of waste diversion: composting. With the possibility of compostables, there are new steps ahead that can be taken by waste management operations at all colleges. See Chapter 13: Composting for more details.
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