Zero-Waste Event Guide

Sustainable UGA zero-waste event guide

Plan ahead. Create culture. Host a great event.

Your event reflects your organization’s culture and values.  Every event at UGA, no matter how big or small, can reflect a culture of sustainability or be a significant source of waste – you get to decide.  Remember the waste reduction hierarchy: reduce, reuse, then recycle.
Plan ahead.  Create Culture.  Host a great event!

5-steps to a zero-waste event:

1. Make zero-waste a priority

Decide in advance that your event will be zero waste and plan ahead.  

Tips:

  • Discuss your zero waste goal with all planning team members and challenge each person to look for opportunities to eliminate waste.
  • Recycling is better than landfilling, but it’s still a waste stream.  First reduce, then reuse, then compost, and finally recycle to avoid adding to the landfill.  
  • Contact event partners early to establish logistics so your event will run smoothly. A suggested timeline is provided at the end of this guide.
2. Plan food service wisely and avoid single use plastic

Food is an important celebratory and community-building aspect of many events, but food service materials are often a primary source of waste. Throughout the event planning process, look for opportunities to eliminate or reuse, and prioritize items that can be used again after your event.  Remember that items that are made from recyclable materials but are covered with food cannot be recycled.

Food Service Tips:

  • Elevate your event with reusable (or compostable) service wares.
    • ACC Recycling Division provides free use of Zero Waste Event Kits with reusable cups, plates, utensils, and more for up to 150 people. 
    • If reusable items are not an option, you can purchase BPI certified compostable food service wares in convenient event packages locally from Let Us Compost at LUC Provisions.
    • Don’t forget to bring reusable bags when shopping for your event!
  • Request RSVPs.
    • Request RSVPs to ensure the appropriate amount of food.
    • Consider creating an event through Eventbrite.
  • Eliminate the need for utensils and packaging.
    • Favor buffet-style food service to reduce individual packaging.
    • Prioritize finger foods to eliminate the need for utensils.
  • Go for bulk.
    • Provide drinks in bulk containers with reusable, compostable, or recyclable cups.
    • Provide dressings and condiments in bulk containers vs. individual packets.
  • Take it home.
    • Bring reusable food storage containers for any leftovers.
    • Share leftovers with attendees or donate to a local non-profit.
  • Challenge your caterer.
    • If your event is being catered, ask the caterer if they can provide reusable or compostable wares and if there are other ways they can help reduce plastic waste at your event.
      • Note: UGA Campus Catering offers both reusable and compostable service wares (and they can create a customized menu with local and sustainable food).
    • Plastic water bottles have become a symbol of wastefulness.
      • Provide water pitchers or a large dispenser with reusable, compostable, or recyclable cups.
      • If you must provide single container beverages, prioritize aluminum cans over plastic bottles.
      • Avoid plastic water bottles to protect your brand – and the planet.

      Other Tips to reduce single-use:

      • Decorate tastefully.
        • If decorations are needed, select items that have a specific and useful next life. That plastic table cloth and confetti may seem fun but it’s kinda tacky and it’s destined for the landfill when you’re done. As a compromise, cut flowers always brighten a room and can be composted after the event.
      • Reduce printing.
        • Email handouts in advance rather than printing copies for each attendee. During the event, provide necessary information on a poster or screen. When printing is necessary, do it double-sided.
      • Don’t give away junk.
        • Giveaways can enhance – or detract from – your brand. Make sure you’re creating a positive message with thoughtful, useful items. If you can’t afford quality products, don’t cheapen your event and your brand with giveaway items that will likely end up in the trash.
3. provide appropriate bins

The “stuff” generated by your event will be composted, recycled, or landfilled.  Make sure you provide convenient and co-located bins for each waste stream.

Compost

Food, paper napkins, and compostable service wares can be composted instead of landfilled.

At UGA, there are two main options for compost collection at events: Food and napkins only; or Food, napkins, and compostable service wares.

Option 1: Composting food and napkins only 

  • Reserve and pick up a compost bin from the UGA Office of Sustainability by emailing compost@uga.edu. Full bins containing only food scraps and napkins can be returned to the Office of Sustainability to be composted on campus. 

Option 2: Composting food, napkins, and service wares 

  • Reserve and pick up a compost bin from the UGA Office of Sustainability by emailing compost@uga.edu – or provide your own compost bucket – and drop off contents at one of the three ACC drop off sites below. 
  • Notes: 
    • If needed, compostable service wares can be purchased locally through LUC Provisions.
    • The cost for compost drop off is $5 per 5-gallon bucket, or equivalent. UGA Office of Sustainability can cover the cost of compost drop off from UGA events which are approved in advance by the Office of Sustainability. 
      • Solid Waste Administration Office: 725 Hancock Industrial Way
      • CHaRM: 1005 College Ave.
      • Landfill: 5700 Lexington Rd.

Recycling

UGA recycles clean cardboard, paper, plastic, metal, and glass.

Make sure your guests have easy access to recycling bins and know what goes in them. 

If needed, additional bins can be requested through your building supervisor, FMD Work Request Center, or Campus Reservations if they manage reservations for your venue. For large outdoor events, contact the Office of Sustainability to pick up temporary cardboard recycling bins. 

Tip: 

  • Provide signage along with your bins, and watch out for the F-words… 
    • Food, Film, and Foam are the primary contaminants that cause recycling loads to be rejected and sent to the landfill.  
    • Any item that would be recyclable but is covered in food should be placed in the landfill bin.
    • Film plastic (such as plastic bags) and styrofoam cannot be placed in standard recycling bins.  They can be collected and recycled separately at CHaRM or local grocery stores, or worst case placed in the landfill bin.
4. Communicate Clearly

Clear communication helps attendees know exactly how to manage their waste.

Before the event:

  • Consider including information about your Zero Waste Event in the invitation and/or reminders to let attendees know what to expect, and remind them to bring their own bottle, mug, etc. as needed. (Feel free to use the UGA Zero Waste Event logo.)

At the event:

  • Set up recycling, compost, and landfill bins directly adjacent to each other so that attendees can easily sort their waste.  
    • Note: recycling bins must have clear bags (not black bags).
  • Make sure recycling, compost, and landfill bins are clearly labeled. 
    • You can download additional signage at https://sustainability.uga.edu/campus-operations/waste-reduction/
  • Consider displaying information where attendees pick up their food so they know how to properly dispose of items when they are through, or make an announcement during the event to communicate what is compostable and recyclable and why it’s important to you. 

After the event:

  • At the end of the event, go the extra mile to ensure all materials end up in the right place, and sort if needed.
    5. celebrate your success

    Hosting an event isn’t easy, especially a thoughtful zero waste event. Reflect on this accomplishment and take pride in doing your job with excellence.

    Tip for the future: 

    • Write down any lessons learned that would help you next time – and feel free to share your insights and ideas with the Office of Sustainability at sustain@uga.edu

      suggested planning timeline:

      2 Months Out (or sooner):  Decide that your event will be zero waste. If sending invitations, request RSVPs to help manage food and other materials.

      1 Month Out:  Finalize food plans including menu and service items. If applicable, order compostable wares from LUC Provisions.

      3 Weeks Out:  Determine waste streams and request additional waste bins if needed. (Additional recycling and landfill bins can be requested through your building supervisor, Campus Reservations, or FMD Work Request Center, depending on your venue. Compost bins can be requested from compost@uga.edu.)

      2 Weeks Out:  Create a plan for compost collections, including delivery to an ACC Compost Drop Off-Site or UGA Office of Sustainability after the event. 

      1 Week Out:  Remind attendees of key event details, including that the event is zero waste and to bring their own water bottle, mug, etc. as appropriate. If applicable, confirm the number of RSVPs with the caterer.

      Day of Event:  Set up clearly labeled waste stations (compost, recycling, landfill) in convenient locations.  Ensure that each waste stream is handled properly at the end of the event.