Rochester, NY has a lot of outdoor events, especially in the summer. It’s one thing to make these events recycling events, where your guests feel good about their environmental footprint. It’s a step beyond to make your event Zero Waste. That means hundreds, maybe thousands, of folks come to your event and leave with little impact on our environment. Food, plates, silverware, packaging, wrappers, drinking cups, and all those tasty ingestibles and their accouterments we bring to bear on special occasions get sorted, recycled, or composted.
Properly speaking, zero waste is where you design products so that the end-of-pipe diversion gets transformed; it is a system designed with environmental health in mind from the very start-- "cradle to cradle." But until we reach that sustainable Holy Grail, we can design our consumption-intensive events as environmentally friendly as possible.
It takes a little more planning than the business-as-usual way of creating events, where you call up all sorts of vendors who bring stuff to your event and then hire a single trash hauler to take it away to who-knows-where. A Zero Waste event requires that you get everyone, especially the event planners and coordinators, on board with thinking environmentally. Without this vision thing, it won’t work. If the key players come to the table kicking and screaming about all the extra trouble this will make, it’ll be a dud. (In the future, if we’re lucky enough to have one after a couple of centuries of seriously trashing and warming* our planet, environmentally friendly events will be the norm.)
First off, to even approach zero waste, you’ll need to start planning early. You’ll need a recycling company, a waste company, a composing company, vendors with recyclable containers, lots of bins, lots of signs (to direct and educate the public), and lots of volunteers to help instruct your guests where to place waste properly. It sounds a bit much, but check out this guide from the great state of Connecticut: “An inside guide to event recycling.” Each region will be different depending on how dedicated businesses, government, and the public are to maintaining a healthy environment--and what the recycling market is like.
Some events in our Rochester region that have gone nearly Zero Waste are the annual Greentopia and Ganondagan Festivals. There are probably more. Presently, our Rochester Sierra Club’s Zero Waste Committee and a local enterprise dedicated to sustainability called Epiphergy are helping to make the Rochester Tour De Cure event on June 2nd a zero waste event. Zero Waste always looks good on your event.
I’m not going to rhapsodize much on the value of making your event as environmentally friendly as possible—except to say that much of our trash is toxic to our children, and improperly dealing with trash will make adapting and mitigating Climate Change more problematic. Not to mention, landfills are really, really bad for our environment:
“Landfills are the largest source of anthropogenic methane emissions in the U.S., and the impact of landfill emissions in the short term is grossly underestimated — methane is 72 times more potent than CO2 over a 20-year time frame.” (Page 7, Stop Trashing the Climate)
Key to a healthy climate of zero waste events is a political and business environment that has the incentive and desire to help make our region’s events trash free. Without easy access to recycling services (i.e., hauling and sorting), it will be more difficult to orchestrate all the elements needed to make our events zero waste.
It’s also crucial that the local media keep a keen eye on how recycling is actually being accomplished. For example, The Investigative Post in the Buffalo region holds its leaders and institutions accountable for increasing the recycling rate: Housing authority ignores recycling mandate.
It’s easy at this point in time, where environmental concerns are thought to be external to our existence, to create events that throw all trash into a single stream and create the illusion that everything is being taken care of properly. More difficult is steering this great wasteful system of ours towards a more sustainable path, where environmental knowledge rules over political, business, and social convenience.
* As of this writing, the Carbon Dioxide on our atmosphere is passing 400 parts per million. “The speed at which Earth’s atmosphere has reached that density of carbon dioxide, a known greenhouse gas, has scientists alarmed.”(Earth's greenhouse gas levels approach 400-ppm milestone (May 1, 2013) LA Times)