How to Make Community Events More Zero Waste – Colorado Hometown Weekly
By Ryan Appel
Eco-Cycle Awareness Coordinator
As the weather warms up in the coming months and winter melts away, outdoor events will begin to fill calendars. If you attended an outdoor event in Boulder County last year, you might have paused before throwing something away. Instead of a single trash can, there are now recycling and compost bins next to it. This three-bin “zero waste station” system (one bin for landfill, recycling and compost) is an effective and easy way to reduce the environmental impact of events, festivals and concerts. Expect more zero waste events in 2022!
So what items go in each bin at a zero waste event? There are usually signs on or near zero waste stations and often volunteers to help, but a zero waste event only works when attendees pay close attention to what goes where.
To recycle: Empty aluminum cans, empty plastic bottles, and paper like newspapers, flyers, or clean cardboard.
Compost: Leftover food as well as paper towels and napkins. What’s unique about zero waste events is that most (ideally all) of the service items vendors sell – such as cups, utensils, food boats, and straws – are made from raw materials. plants and designed specifically for the compost bin. These items may look a lot like their plastic counterparts, but they are labeled “BPI certified compostable”. Ask the seller or look closely at the service item to see if it has this all-important certified compostable labeling before putting it in the compost cart. These compostable items CANNOT be recycled. One of the most common contaminants at a zero waste event is compostable cups in recycling. If it’s compostable, it goes in the compost bin.
Trash can: Non-recyclable, non-compostable plastics or laminated papers, such as plastic cups and lids, coffee cups, utensils, food containers, straws and plastic wrap.
It would be impossible to list all types of materials on zero waste station signs, so be sure to ask a volunteer to monitor your questions. They give their time because they are passionate about environmental issues and will be happy to explain the ins and outs of recycling, composting and reuse.
How you can help reduce waste at community events
Pay close attention to signs before discarding suckers. You can also help by volunteering to be a zero waste station monitor. Email your city’s sustainability department or event coordinator to see if there are any upcoming volunteer opportunities. This is a significant liability as entire recycling or composting streams can be ‘contaminated’ by the presence of the wrong type of discarded item. Additionally, if you are a supplier for an event, you can help your community event be more sustainable by only supplying compostable, recyclable or reusable products.
Another easy way to reduce waste as an event attendee is to bring any reusable items you might need to the event. For example, bring your own refillable water bottle to avoid plastic cups and bottles, a set of utensils to avoid plastic serving items, and a reusable bag to avoid plastic bags.
The success of zero waste events is measured by “diversion rates” – the percentage of discarded materials that are recycled or composted instead of landfilled. If an event provides easy access to recycling and compost bins, and vendors choose recyclable and compostable containers, and attendees bring reusable items or ensure they dispose of containers properly, the re-routing during an event can increase significantly. For example, with the help of Eco-Leader volunteers, Erie’s zero waste events in 2020 saw exceptional diversion rates. Each of Erie’s summer concerts had diversion rates over 75%, and Erie’s Biscuit Day had the highest diversion rate with a whopping 94%. Let’s set a goal to achieve less waste and more sustainability at zero waste events in 2022!
Eco-Cycle is one of the oldest and largest non-profit recyclers and zero waste organizations in the United States. Eco-Cycle innovates, implements and champions local and global zero-waste solutions to foster a more regenerative, equitable and climate-resilient future. For more information: www.ecocycle.org