It's summertime and that means outdoor festivals, food and fun... and more often than not, a ton of waste! 🙁
Tune in to this episode to hear from long-time event coordinator, Becky Migas of B Green Events about how to plan and execute epic zero waste events! Hear how simple steps transformed Denver's East High School After Prom into a more sustainable event.
Don't get overwhelmed thinking about pulling something like this off in your community...
Your first step is to try it. Learn and do better next time!
Zero Waste Tips from Becky Migas, B Green Events
Becky has years of experience in event coordination, working with the 80/35 Music Festival and a historic theater in Des Moines, Iowa. In 2014, Becky moved to Denver and began working with an event coordination company, helping with hundreds of events each year across the country.
Seeing the amount of waste generated by events was so unsettling, Becky decided to make a change. She started her own company, B Green Events, to help people hold events that were good for people and for the planet.
One issue is that people during events are so distracted, the last thing on their minds are what to do with your trash. Some events now use "bioplastics", that is, plastic materials that are made from corn, sugarcane or other plant. Because bioplastic cups and forks look and feel like plastic, people often think they can't be compostable. If they can be composted, it will be say "compostable" on the cup.
Sometimes the compost Becky says, "I'm the party planner that's a party pooper, some days."
One of the big mistakes is waiting until the end of the event. If you just come in at the end, many of the important decisions will already have been made.
"A lot of people come in two days before their event and want to divert their waste. It tends to be an afterthought, rather than forethought," said Becky.
Zero waste stations don't work unless you have trained volunteers staffing them.
You can have the biggest impact through decisions made in the planning stage. The first thing is to work with food vendors. Ensure that all vendors are using compostable-compliant materials. Confirm that they are certified by Biodegradable Products Institute and Manufacturers Compost Alliance. Don't get caught by greenwashing. Ensure that the products you choose can actually break down in industrial composting facilities.
Water bottles is another big source of waste. Look at alternatives such as water stations with compostable cups.
With other beverages, again, look at compostable cups or using cans instead.
Composting is still a single-use approach, so it's better to eliminate the products entirely wherever possible.
How do you handle pushback when you recommend that people stop selling water bottles, that might be a good moneymaker?
Yes, we need to have incorporate event sustainability, in the same way that we now have "Corporate Social Responsibility" (CSR).
There are companies out there that want to support events that are sustainable. So, even if there is an additional cost, it may be offset because a sustainable festival can attract more sponsors. It can also create savings streams when you can reuse things year to year.
Other ideas from Joan from Youth of the Earth Festival:
- Purchase used t-shirts from the thrift store
- Purchase reusable water bottles from the thrift store
- Coordinated with Boulder Food Rescue to use rescued food, served on real plates
What is the price difference going to compostable products compared to the ubiquitous "red plastic cups"?
The prices are coming down as compostable products are now starting to be available in grocery stores, Costco, and directly from suppliers such as Eco-Products or World-Centric.
In addition to sponsors, you can also look at grants, such as:
- Can'd Aid, Oskar Blues Foundation
- Strengthening Neighborhoods Grant from Denver Foundation
Additional cost areas may include:
- Compostable products
- Water stations
- Staffing for zero waste stations
- Signage for zero waste stations
- Paying for compost hauling
- Zero Waste management services to help you coordinate the event
Make sure you plan to measure your results! Becky uses a system for weighing the waste as you go, and keep track of it on a piece of reused cardboard. In addition, your hauler can weigh and report so you have a way to double-check. Then, take the time to report your results.
Becky sees that over the next few years, as people get more used to doing zero waste events, this will become automatic. Start slow. The more you do, the more you realize you can do.
Even if you don't have a budget to hire a sustainability consultant or coordinator for your event, reach out to B Green Events. Your consultant may be able to help you identify sponsors or grants to fund your zero waste initiative.
"Try to do something small today to make a bigger difference tomorrow." - Becky Migas, B Green Events
Case Study: East High School After Prom
In 1978, I graduated from East High School. And I don't think we even had an after prom! Boy, have times changed!
Nowadays, dozens of parents work to create a safe and entertaining event for 800 to 900 students, running from midnight to 4:00 am after the dance has ended.
After seeing the amount of waste generated last year, East High School parent of Sustainable Three decided that they could do better. Becky Migas joined the sustainability committee for the event.
The committee took numerous steps to reduce waste:
- During the planning process, Liz and Becky worked with the different committees, especially food and decorations to help them devise a plan to divert as much waste from the landfill as possible.
- Instead of giving out water bottles as was done in the previous years, they set up water stations. The water was provided in 5-gallon jugs at a discounted price from Rocky Mountain Bottled Water, with compostable cups.
- They turned the zero waste station into a game called "Think, Thank, Dunk". Staffed by parent volunteer "referees", the kids had to stop and think before they dunked their "trash" into the bins. They were amazed when they learned that most items were compostable.
- Collected 900 pounds of compost and delivered it to Eco-Cycle in Boulder to be composted in an industrial composter.
- Collected 1,100 pounds of recycling waste sent to Alpine Waste & Recycling through the Denver Recycles program.
- As in previous years, 80% of decorations from this year were either recycled, donated or placed into storage to be used for next year's After Prom.
- A large carload full of decorations from this year were donated to George Washington High Schoool for their prom the next weekend.