How to Host a Zero Waste Event
By Alyssa Cody, Programs & Communications Specialist
Events represent the core of our culture. They provide entertainment, community, enjoyment, and education. In some cases, such as our recent golf event fundraiser, they provide an effective fundraising method for causes. However, events also tend to produce a lot of waste. In staying true to our mission, this year, Keep Omaha Beautiful aimed to host a zero waste golf tournament. Hosting a zero waste event means that at least 90% of the waste produced is diverted from the landfill.
Our golf tournament was a six-hour event with roughly 200 participants, each of them consuming food and beverages throughout the day. Additionally, our host facility had no prior recycling infrastructure, but we were up for the challenge. With a little planning and clear communication, this feat proved to be completely possible. Check out our process and see how you may be able to adapt it to your upcoming event.
Step 1: Identify your Outputs
Determine the types of waste that will be produced at your event. For us, that included food waste from two meals and various types of beverage containers (glass, aluminum, and plastic). We provided our own recyclable plastic to-go containers and cups to replace the Styrofoam materials that the golf course typically used. To cut down on waste, both meals were served on reusable dishware.
Step 2: Provide Proper Waste Receptacles
Once you identify the outputs, ensure you have a way to divert each material from the landfill. We contracted with WeCompost to compost food waste and manage the glass recycling. The food and glass bins were placed in the kitchen waste disposal area for staff to utilize after clearing waste from the clubhouse. Additionally, several visible and well-marked mixed recycling containers were placed around the clubhouse for plastic, aluminum, and paper waste.
Rather than trying to strategically place various waste receptacles around the golf course and relying on participants to sort correctly, we provided plastic bags in each golf cart for golfers to collect ALL of the waste they used throughout the day inside of them. These bags included clear instructions, and would be dropped off with volunteers at the end of the day to be sorted.
Step 3: Communicate
When trying to control the disposal habits of hundreds of participants, communication is key. First, we regularly communicated our zero waste plan with golf course staff prior to the event to ensure they were clear on the expectations. Additionally, the day of the event, we met with the staff again to reiterate the process and answer questions.
When participants arrived, our director gave a welcoming address to the golfers, bringing attention to the recycling containers placed around the clubhouse for their use. The golfers were briefed again about instructions on waste disposal on the golf course before departing to play. By the end of the day, we once again followed up with golfers on how the zero-waste effort went, thanking them for their cooperation.
Step 4: Divert Waste
At the end of the day, volunteers retrieved the waste collection bags from the golf carts and sorted them into four piles:
- Mixed recycling (plastic, aluminum, paper)
- Glass recycling
- Hefy energy bag (soft, non-recyclable plastics and Styrofoam)
- Garbage (this mostly consisted of used tobacco products or soiled materials)
After volunteers sorted through all of the golfer's plastic bags for roughly one hour, only a small portion of a trash bag was filled from the entire duration of the golf course outing! There were also two bags of trash produced by the kitchen by the end of the day due to some communication errors with staff during a shift change. As pre-arranged, WeCompost picked up the compost and glass recycling by the end of the day. Keep Omaha Beautiful transported recycling bags and Hefty energy bags to a recycling drop-off site.
In summary, only 2.5 bags of garbage were produced after hosting nearly 200 golfers. In a post-event survey, 95% of respondents said that the process of putting all of their waste in the plastic bag on their golf carts was either convenient or very convenient. Additionally, 94% of respondents said it was either important or very important for Keep Omaha Beautiful to reduce waste and recycle as much as possible at the event.
Events represent our culture, and the types of events we host reflect the values of that culture. In Omaha, we want those events to reflect a community that takes responsible waste stewardship seriously, and one that values environmental and resource conservation. Plus, by integrating sustainable practices into your event, attendees can simultaneously learn about zero waste efforts. They'll also most likely leave with a more favorable perception of your organization.
Interested in making your event zero waste? Email HelloKOB@cityofomaha.org or call 402-444-7774 for recommendations. The Nebraska Recycling Council also offers great advice on zero waste initiatives. Keep Omaha Beautiful provides free recycling container rentals!