As in all other aspects of waste management, the right steps are to reduce, reuse and recycle before tossing things away. Follow these guidelines to run or get closer to a zero-waste event.
Run the numbers.
Your total budget should guide your decisions, not the cost of any one aspect. For example, renting utensils may seem an added cost, until you realize that the reduce weight of trash lowers your waste hauling charges.
Speak with your waste vendor, or the one who services your venue.
Ask about composting, recycling and other waste guidelines. Many vendors will not offer these services unless you bring it up.
Train the staff.
Often the staff brought in to work an event arrives the day off with little advance knowledge. Most managers gather the group for quick train. Ask that sustainable practices, such as helping guests to separate recyclables, be added to the training.
Green your theme.
No, you don't have to go all avocado and lime in the decorations, or even have Mother Earth wandering the crowd. Instead, take your preferred theme to a whole new level and use it to reduce waste. Do you love sleek, modern or industrial? Great! Go minimalist with very little decor, or re-use materials like piping and pallets to create interest. Do you love vintage or country or shabby chic? Fantastic! Browse consignment shops or borrow from friends to create a homey atmosphere without buying any new materials. Do you love nature? So do we! Our city's lush green spaces and gorgeous beach make perfect venues and require almost no decor at all to be beautiful.
Really think about paper.
From programs to placecards to corporate brochures, printed paper are some of the most wasteful aspects of events. Consider non-printed alternatives as appropriate to your theme and event purpose. Or, go high-tech and avoid printing all together. If you must print, make only a few items available at a time because it's human nature to take less when less is offered. And, please provide recycling bins.
Switch or skip the favors and giveaways.
They're expensive, they don't always bring a return, and many guests leave them behind. A good way to reduce waste it to consider whether you need these extras at all, and if you do to select them and determine quantities carefully. Many vendors offer items made of recyclable materials. You can select a giveaway that promotes sustainability, such as a re-usable bag or a packet of seeds. These items will spread your message long after your event is over, and they won't hit the landfill.
Rightsize the food and flowers.
Work with your caterer and florist to purchase just what you will need. Or, craft a menu that allows some just-in-time preparation with ingredients that your caterer can hold over. Speak with your florist about arrangements that have big impact with fewer stems, and also about using recyclable or re-usable containers. You can even incorporate native flowering plants, or use potted trees as part of your decor, both of which can be planted after your event.
No one wants to be unprepared, and so inevitably there may be some excess at your event. As part of your planning, contact local food banks and shelters, hospitals and care centers, charities and other organizations to arrange for pick-up of leftover food, flowers, promotionals and other materials. This can often reduce the fees you pay for event clean-up.