Zero Waste Events 101

zero waste 101 for food trucks and other food service businesses

So you’ve signed up to attend a Zero Waste Event or Festival.... Now what?

What is Zero Waste?

Zero Waste is named after its goal - to mimic sustainable natural cycles where there is literally no “waste.” All resources are reused by other members of an ecological community in a closed loop cycle. For people, this means designing and then managing our products and systems with this in mind. “Waste” is instead a “Resource” to be recycled or composted when at all possible, with the barest minimum ending up in a landfill. This could mean plastics are turned into more plastics, or compostable materials are turned into compost to fertilize farm fields. (Read more about Zero Waste here.)

How does it work?

Instead of trash cans, event goers are provided with Resource Recovery Stations. These provide options for waste to be sorted into separate bins for COMPOST, RECYCLE and LANDFILL. Sorting out waste is not rocket science, but consumers still find it challenging to get everything into the right bin simply because it’s new and they fall back on ingrained habits. We’ve seen people time and time again get confused and opt for the landfill bin because that’s the easiest and most familiar option. Education and signage is key. We find that clear signs with actual examples of what goes where can help. But everything must still be sorted at the end to limit contamination for the composting and recycling processes. Most zero waste events rely on volunteers to do this sorting. Thank them!

How do I know if my supplies are acceptable?

Check with your event organizers beforehand. They should be able to advise you on what sorts of materials are acceptable for the event. Generally, what you should look for is the BPI Certified symbol. This is THE regulated and verifiable certification for compostable materials. (On the West Coast, you may also see “Cedar Grove approved.”)

Read more about what “compostable” means and why it’s so important HERE.

Do NOT trust other unverified claims that companies may make about their products. Just because a product is “green,” “biobased,” or “biodegradable” does not mean that it is fully compostable. We’ve seen operators show up at events with these “greenwashed” products only to be told at the last minute that they cannot use them. Don’t let this happen to you! One example is a so-called “green alternative” beige-colored foam ... that is still foam. Another example is a range of poly coated paper products. If paper is lined to be waterproof or greaseproof, it must be coated with a plant-based rather than petroleum-based lining.

What kinds of products will work?

Our compostable products are made primarily from plant fibers (bagasse), PLA (bioplastic made from corn) and paper that, if lined, is lined with PLA (rather than with petroleum-based linings).

We find that polystyrene foam (aka "Styrofoam") is best and most affordably replaced by bagasse plates, bowls, clamshells, and food containers. PLA can be substituted for conventional plastics for any cold food or drinks. This includes cups, straws, deli containers, clamshells and cutlery. PLA lined paper cups and containers replace conventional paper products and work for hot foods. Unlined paper products are also generally acceptable for composting.

Still have questions?

Just ask! We’re here to help. We are happy to take a look at your current service model and help you to identify cost-effective, zero waste-ready options that fit with your brand and budget.

Remember, zero waste is new to most consumers. You can play an important role in helping to educate them what it means in practice and to make the event go smoothly. Thanks for playing your part!