How to put on a zero waste event

GLEE decided to set a goal of achieving Zero Waste at its recent annual meeting in late February. With all the recent attention on recycling and GLEE out in the forefront of the discussion, the organization felt it had to walk the walk when it came to reducing waste at a green event.

Now the results of that effort are in. The event hosted about 150 people, with food and drink served. At the end of the night there was nothing thrown in the trash. Zero. In fact, there were no trash cans displayed because there was no need.

How did GLEE do this? With some proper planning, a commitment to the 4 Rs of reduce, reuse, recycle and rot, and diligence to ensuring the plan was executed.

The group set up a “Zero Waste Station” with a sign to reflect that. The station included these components:

The first requirement was Reuse.

Cloth napkins were collected for washing and reuse.

Plastic plates were collected and washed for reuse. GLEE opted for plastic over paper plates since they have a lifespan of at least 3-4 more uses. Paper is too dirty to recycle after being contaminated with food.

Trays for donated food from Blue Heaven, The Café and Kelly’s were washed and returned to the restaurants.

Biodegradable cutlery was used. It was washed and can be reused many times. For any use where there is threat of the product ending up in the ocean (boats and businesses in close proximity to the water), the choice is clear: biodegradable over plastic. Plastic and Styrofoam live forever in our oceans, breaking into smaller and smaller pieces that fish and marine life mistake for food. They end up starving to death with full bellies.

When it comes to an event that is well protected from the ocean, the group favors recyclable or reusable materials over biodegradables because “compostable” cups and cutlery must be composted at a commercial compost facility where temperatures reach 140 degrees. Since the Keys don’t have such a facility, the only option for these compostable materials is to put them in the trash, not a good choice.

If an item can’t be reused then it should be recycled:

  • Recyclable cups (#1 PETE plastic) for wine, beer and soft drinks
  • Bottles and cans
  • Plastic bags from ice, cups and plates were saved to be taken to Publix, where they can be recycled
  • Finally, Rot (composting) helps reduce waste significantly. For demonstration purposes, an Enviro-cycle compost tumbler was positioned at the event for people to put their food scraps in. An added advantage of this station was that the dishes to be washed were already scraped mostly clean of food.

    Is achieving zero waste more time consuming than simply filling trash cans and sending it to the land of away? Of course. Did everyone comply with the “rules”? No, even with proper signage, old habits die hard. GLEE members had to do some monitoring and separating. But people did pretty well. As more and more event organizers make the effort to work toward zero waste, the guests will start paying attention and catch on.

    Best of all the Key West Botanical Gardens, the site of the awards, wasn’t left with trash to deal with and pay for hauling it to the incinerator. With all the special events in the Keys, imagine if all of them made an effort to truly reduce waste. Imagine a Zero Waste Fantasy Fest.

    For more information on zero waste, visit .

    An exciting new technology being used by agriculture, resorts and wastewater utilities around south Florida called in-vessel electric composting, which composts food and yard waste, paper products and even sewage sludge and dead chickens, in three days. This technology saves thousands of dollars on trash disposal, and creates a useful soil amendment to be used in landscaping and gardens.