Sustainable America Blog

A Milestone for Zero-Waste Events

Volunteers from Sacred Heart University helped patrons at Chilifest sort their food waste.

Volunteers from Sacred Heart University helped patrons at Chilifest sort their compostables. The event sent 2,840 pounds of organic waste to be composted.


On Superbowl Sunday, we partnered for the third time with the organizers of a local culinary competition and fundraiser to make its latest event, Chilifest, a zero-waste affair. We just learned that the event diverted more than four times as much waste to compost than last year’s event — that’s 2,840 pounds of food scraps and compostable items that are being recycled into a nutrient-rich soil supplement instead of being incinerated!

The numbers are one thing to celebrate, but Chilifest has also helped us reach an important milestone as an organization. This was our first zero-waste event that our staff didn’t personally oversee. Instead, the organizers were able to run a successful event using the zero-waste tools and support system we’ve been developing over the last two years. This means we’re now equipped and ready to help even more events around the country compost their food waste!

Sorting station at a zero-waste eventPlanning, Preparation and Cardboard Mitts
It has always been our goal to design a set of procedures and tools that will provide event organizers nationwide with the ability to successfully manage a zero-waste event on their own. But first, we had to get our own hands dirty, so to speak. We have been working for almost two years to hone our skills in food waste diversion at events like Chowdafest, Live Green CT! and SXSW Eco. Through our onsite management at these events, we have learned the key elements to success (like big cardboard mitts) and we’ve seen the pitfalls that can impede diversion. As a result, we have crafted strategies that work and ensure ever-increasing success.

Chilifest was a little like sending our baby off to college, but the event’s success demonstrated that the hundreds of hours we have spent on the ground at these events have paid off. Given the proper tools and support, event organizers can go zero waste without the need for onsite consultants and management. This isn’t to imply that going zero waste is simple or doesn’t involve effort and dedication. Careful planning and preparation are necessary, and staffing is essential. Chilifest, for example, deployed 12 student athlete volunteers from Sacred Heart University whose enthusiastic presence in assisting patrons sort their waste was instrumental.

The Green Event Trend
In service of our mission to increase food availability and reduce food waste, we are excited that we can now broaden the scope of events that we can assist in going zero waste. Consumers nationwide are increasingly interested in supporting green businesses. Organizers that decide to compost their events’ organic waste are uniquely positioned to educate their patrons about the benefits of composting and affect grassroots change.

In addition to being socially and environmentally responsible, greening an event can be economically advantageous as well. Event organizers often pay less per ton to divert organic food waste to composting than they pay to dispose of garbage in a landfill. Commercial composting facilities are able to charge less than MSW (Material Solid Waste) facilities because they generate revenue by selling finished compost.

Ready to Go Zero-Waste?
We’ve got the tools, and now we need you. If you’re interested in learning more about how Sustainable America can help make an event zero waste, contact Heide Hart, director of events, at heide.hart@sustainableamerica.org or 203-803-1250.

RELATED ARTICLES
Behind the Scenes at a Zero-Waste Event
12 Ways to Make Your Next Party More Sustainable
Introducing ‘I Value Food,’ a Campaign to End Food Waste

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By the Numbers

Currently 50 million households suffer from food insecurity, meaning that family members cannot always meet their basic food needs.

10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.

Only 2% of food waste is composted or otherwise recycled—62% of paper is recycled.

Consumers throw out about 40% of the fresh and frozen fish they buy.

The U.S. produced 208 pounds of meat per person in 2009—60% more than Europe.

Low income commuters spend a much higher proportion of their wages on gas—8.6% versus 2.1% at $4 per gallon.

Food prices rose 35-40 percentage points between 2002–2008.

Americans consume 25% of the world’s produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves.

The International Energy Agency says greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.2% last year, with a 9.3% increase in China offsetting declines in the US and EU.


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