By: Lorelei Elkins

Not only are Zero Waste meetings and events a great way to show your commitment to the environment, but they have economic benefits as well.  Start small with an upcoming meeting and plan ahead so that all materials used and disposed of are reusable, recyclable or compostable.  Think ahead of time about all the materials your guests will use and plan waste out of the event from the start.

First, why Zero Waste?  Landfills are filling up quickly and establishing new landfills as a long-term strategy is not sustainable.  They come with a heavy social and environmental price tag such as potential groundwater pollution, high siting and maintenance cost, wildlife habitat destruction, methane emissions and other greenhouse gas leaks. There is also the ever present energy use and higher pollution levels associated with producing items from virgin resources for products and packaging.

Source Reduction: The key to successful Zero Waste meetings and events is to eliminate waste at its source.  This includes choosing products that come with little or no packaging, achieved by such things as purchasing items in bulk and selecting items that aren’t individually wrapped. Source reduction also eliminates unnecessary items like paper doilies, inedible garnishes, decorative toothpicks, and straws. Use recyclable or reusable decorations and stay away from balloons!

Don’t forget that your giveaway swag should be useful, reusable, recyclable, and made with recycled content. Select products and materials with their best end use in mind, that is, if materials cannot be reused, recycled or composted then these materials should not be purchased or used.  If you are the person responsible for purchasing or ordering take source reduction into consideration, otherwise talk to your venue or caterer about your Zero Waste plans. Zero Waste is becoming more common and most venues are familiar with the concept.

Recycling:  By processing used materials into new products, waste is diverted from the landfill.  Recycling aids in conserving natural resources, reduces air and water pollution, generates less solid waste and reduces the continual cost of extracting and manufacturing new products. In North Carolina we are fortunate to host several companies who depend on recycled items for their product production.  In addition to the environmental benefits, those industries employ our neighbors and contribute to a healthy local economy. Make sure containers for recycling are available at your meeting or venue and be certain you invite your guests to use them.


Composting: Organics account for a significant component of the solid waste that goes to the landfill.  Luckily there are a few local companies that collect organic waste generated by meetings, gatherings and conferences, and turn it back into soil.  I have attended meetings where a simple lidded bucket was placed out of the way and guests were asked to scrape their food waste into the bucket. It was then turned over to a composting facility or taken for home compost processing. Compostable utensils and dishware are available now too!


Communication:  Engage your guests, make them part of your effort for achieving Zero Waste.  Depending on the type of meeting or event, it can be used as a marketing tool!  If your guests know what to expect ahead of time they will be more likely to participate and get behind your efforts to achieve Zero Waste.

If you’d like to know more about Zero Waste meetings and events, a quick internet search will bring up several options for browsing Zero Waste event planning guides.  Or, send me an email and we can talk more about it.  Zero Waste events are highly impactful and easier to achieve than you think.  I promise!