Region 1: EPA New England
Minimizing Solid Waste
The third factor to consider for making your event "greener" is to reduce, reuse and recycle various materials that will be used. These materials range from construction materials to printed materials to food. As a first step to reduce solid waste, refer to EPA's solid waste guide, which outlines the key steps in planning and conducting an environmentally aware event, profiles a variety of meetings and events, and provides a checklist that can be used as a planning tool. Another source of information is EPA's resource center, Recycle on the Go.
Other products that can easily be recycled with the proper planning include cardboard, paper, cans and bottles. One way to reduce the amount of paper is to go paperless for promotional materials, event registration and confirmation, and speaker presentations. If you do use paper, make sure it is recycled and processed chlorine-free paper; avoid glossy paper and use vegetable-based inks. If you use plastic name badges, they too can be recycled. More information and links to web sites that will help you reduce, reuse and recycle are available through EPA's Green Meeting Initiative.
One additional area that presents a tremendous opportunity for making your event greener is in food service. Typically, there are numerous gatherings that provide meals and snacks. Standard green practices include using china and glass rather than disposable tableware, a buffet instead of boxed lunches, and cloth napkins instead of paper napkins. Condiments such as sugar, cream, ketchup, etc., should be served in bulk rather than individually packaged containers and drinks should be available in pitchers rather than from individual plastic bottles, when feasible.
You and your caterers should explore purchasing locally-grown produce. On average, food travels 1,500 miles from producer to end-user. Using locally grown produce will help to reduce the impacts of transporting food items over long distances, thereby reducing CO2 emissions and shipping costs. Equally important to remember is that local farms contribute to the preservation of open space and support the local economy.
You should also plan ahead for what will happen to food items not consumed. Rather than simply throwing it away, can any of it be donated? Food recovery is one way to help reduce hunger in America. It supplements federal food assistance programs by making better use of a food source that already exists. According to EPA's Organic Materials Web site, almost 25 percent of the food we prepare, or approximately 100 billion pounds, goes to waste each year and less than 3 percent of food waste is recovered. But the real story is that millions of people could have been fed by those lost resources. If you are able to donate any unspoiled food from your event, the Good Samaritan Law provides legal protection. You can locate local food banks or food rescue organizations at America's Second Harvest, which is a national food bank network.
Rock and Wrap It Up! Inc., a non-profit organization working to alleviate hunger, is an excellent example of how an organization is making such donations happen. Initially, the organization worked with the music industry to recover leftover backstage food by arranging to have it delivered to local shelters. The organization has expanded to work with college cafeterias, professional sporting events, election night congressional political parties, and more.
If you cannot donate leftover food, remember food prep and plate scraps can be composted. According to EPA, food scraps make up almost 12% of all municipal solid waste generated in the United States. The Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, which can serve up to 9,000 people per meal, composts an estimated 2.5 tons of food residuals per month. More information on composting organic materials is available from EPA.