The 10 Key Steps to a Zero Waste Event


2018 was a fascinating year in terms of consumer awareness. Never before have people caused such furore about the wasteful reality of music festivals, sport events and other cultural happenings around the world. It is not the first time we’ve seen parks and arenas transformed into wastelands, but it is the first time images of the aftermath has sparked such outrage amongst people.

It seems something has shifted.

People are frustrated that nothing is done about it, often not realising that they are the ones who have the power to change the way these events are run. Until that connection is established however, the responsibility must fall on the organiser. In the last few years we have come across quite a few event planners out there that really knows how to successfully run zero waste events. Organisers that don’t just say they want to have a low impact on the environment, but who actually delivers without being motivated by public outrage.

Whether you run a school fete, a small cafe, a farmers market or a music festival, these are the things I have been asked to share with organisers time and time again.

The 10 key things for successfully running a zero waste event

1) Clear communication. On websites, newsletters, emails, tickets, banners, posters and any promotional material, it should clearly state that it is a zero-waste event and that there are certain rules attendees are required to adhere to. Here is an example of text that can be used; "This is a zero waste event, please bring your own cups, plates and utensils. Free wash-stations available.”

2) Plan for people forgetting! Set up a cutlery, plate and cup stall where people can hire what they need for a small fee. Make sure there are wash-up bays near the food areas.

3) Water stations. Make sure water stations can be easily located throughout the site to make sure people stay hydrated.

4) Hire food stalls that share the same values! When stall holders are onboard with your values you know that they will adhere to the rules of no single use items and other avoidable waste related to food and drinks. Biodegradable is not compostable and anything ‘single use’ still requires a lot of valuable resources to manufacture, package and transport, only to be thrown in the bin or the compost after a few minutes. So lets avoid single use and get creative with the way food is served. Cakes can easily be served on a banana leaf and most foods can be handed over in bread! Make sure you cater for vegans and celiacs! Renew Fest in Mullumbimby only allowed waste free caterers to operate at their event.

5) Have bins clearly marked - FOOD WASTE, COMPOST, RECYCLING and LANDFILL. The last two are totally avoidable with a bit of planning. On each one, mention what goes into them and WHY. Food waste can be sent to pig farms, compostables can be turned into soil, recycling profits could be donated to a local cause. If you need a general waste bin, you could have the event goals stated on it, something that makes people think twice before they dispose anything. It encourages responsible behaviour and engages people in your cause. Wanderlust displayed that they had a goal of less than 1 bin of general waste over their 4 day yoga event. That simple message not only got a lot of people talking and taking photos of the sign, but it made people act more responsibly.

6) Have drink stalls / bars with drinks on tap. If everyone brings their own cup there is no need for drinks to be sold in bottles, and therefore no need for a recycling bin.

7) Utilise renewable energy. The seriously committed event organisers not only go for zero waste, they also run it on renewables. Renew fest is run 100% on solar.

8) Ban promotional marketing items. Most promotional items are only used once or twice and then forgotten. Any brand that wants to sponsor the event can do so by providing a service that creates value instead of waste. It could be an relax area with lounge chairs or a refreshing nibble or drink. Think experience over stuff. With no stuff there is no need for plastic bags to carry the ‘stuff’ in.

9) Avoid unnecessary event decor. Balloons, plastic confetti, glitter, battery powered wrist bands and anything that is an environmental nightmare to deal with afterwards should be avoided. At the Taylor Swift concerts, battery powered wristbands are given to every single person in the crowd, this could be easily avoided by installing interactive lights on each chair instead. Jack Johnson on the other hand has a strong focus on zero waste at all his concerts.

10) Highlight the good things you do! Many events utilise art as a way to create attention to the good things they are doing. Create something from plastic waste that creates attention or amaze the audience with some mind-blowing stats of how much waste was diverted from landfill. This makes people feel proud about supporting your event and it will inspire other event organisers to rethink the way they run their events.

Photo: Keeping only the favourites.