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Make Your Event Zero-Waste

June 7, 2010

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If you are planning an event, be it birthday party, wedding, or fundraiser, challenge yourself to make it zero waste.  Pebble in the Pond has been involved in a few events and, through a little trial and error, have developed some strategies to reduce waste, especially plastic.  In almost any event, one of the biggest waste challenges we’ve found concerned food: preparation, service, and disposal.

We sat down with the Powell River Film Festival organizers this year and analyzed their opening and closing galas and youth camp with an eye to eliminating as much waste as possible, especially plastic.  I’m pleased to report that we diverted more than 13kg of food waste from landfill to compost, and we were able to get a sponsorship from Purica who donated stainless steel water bottles to all film camp participants thereby eliminated about 300 plastic water bottles!  Of course, those students are all still using those bottles and have eliminated hundreds more since the camp.

The final analysis of the waste revealed that we could have done better.  Most of the food for the festival is donated and, although we contacted food donors in advance and requested they eliminate plastic wherever possible, there were things that we didn’t anticipate like frilly toothpicks and coloured napkins.  Because the dye used in the napkins was unknown and therefore questionable, that couldn’t be composted and obviously, the festively coloured plastic of the frilly toothpicks contaminated perfectly degradable wood.  (NB: I spoke to the donor who provided the frilly toothpicks with their food and was advised that the frill is a safety feature to stop people from accidentally eating the toothpick or stabbing their hands or something.  How about using a food safe dye on the toothpick instead?  Honestly people!!)

But we analyzed these shortcomings and made recommendations for next year’s festival and expect to have even less waste in 2011.  We also took what we learned at the Film Festival and used it to make Earth Day a zero-waste event.  Powell River does not yet have a municipal composting system, so we asked all our food vendors to think of food that didn’t require cutlery, use disposables that would degrade in a home composter situation, and arranged for a local farmer to be on hand to collect the compost.

It should be well noted that with very few exceptions, food donors and vendors were more than happy to think outside the box and work with us to find ways to eliminate waste.  So, this blog post includes a few strategies to help you reduce or eliminate waste at your next event.  If you have any questions, please contact us!

CONSIDER!

The #1 thing to do is consider all aspects of your event and ways that you can eliminate waste and disposables. Events often depend heavily on donations so explain to your donors that you want a zero-waste event, and work with them for creative solutions to minimize waste and packaging.

For instance, if you have pretty service trays, deliver them to your food donor beforehand for plating rather than having the food delivered in plastic and transferring to your own trays at the event. It’s been our experience that donors are more than happy to rise to the challenge and often have amazingly creative solutions themselves!

DID YOU KNOW?

Pebble in the Pond’s strategies helped the 2010 Powell River Film Festival divert more than 13kg of waste from landfill to compost. Congratulations PRFF!!

The Myth of Plastic Recycling

Your municipality has a recycling program that accepts plastic so that means it’s being recycled into new products, right? Not necessarily. It’s disheartening, but recycling is a commodity and it needs a buyer. If it’s not cost-effective (i.e. if there is no buyer for that type of plastic, or it costs more to recycle than anyone will pay for the resulting material) it just gets lumped in with the rest of the garbage.

Municipalities have worked hard to get you into the recycling habit so they maintain curbside collection even though they may not have a buyer. And it’s still a GREAT habit so don’t stop now!! In Powell River, all plastics except #3 are picked up for recycling; however, only #1 and #2 plastics actually go to a recycling facility. The rest are landfilled 😦

PROVEN STRATEGIES

COMPOST!

Much of the waste from an event can be composted. Be sure to have compost buckets available and arrange to drop them off at a local farm. Be sure to use compostable service items like unbleached napkins and no-frills toothpicks. Don’t know any farmers? Call us and we’ll hook you up!

REUSE!

If you have a kitchen or dishwashing area, use REAL cutlery, glasses and dishes instead of paper or plastic. There are great deals to be hadat thrift stores. It doesn’t have to be matchy-matchy. Mix it up & make it fun!

AVOID!

Avoid disposables, especially plastic. Yes, it’s hard, but we need to make a big effort to eliminate disposable plastic from our lives. Recycling is NOT the answer – see The Myth of Plastic Recycling for more about that …

OK, you’ve read all this and you’ve done your level best, but for one reason or another it’s impossible for you to avoid disposables. Don’t fear. In Powell River, vendors like Ecossentials and Aaron Service & Supplies now stock compostable disposables. Not lucky enough to live here? More and more stores and party suppliers everywhere stock earth-friendly disposables so call a few up and throw your support behind businesses who are getting with the program. But be careful: some things like compostable cutlery can not be put into home composters so your friendly farmer won’t take it. These types of compostables typically require very hot municipal compost facilities which are not in all communities. Please visit our website for more great ideas for reducing your plastic consumption: www.pebpond.com

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