How To Host A Zero-Waste Event

By Tracey Becker


If you’re like me, when you entertain a crowd you use a mix of disposable and recyclable goods, which invariably all end up in the trash. This year, I was determined to minimize the items destined for the trash and I went Zero-Waste.

Here’s how you can too:

Plan for a waste station with three bins.

  • Landfill – dirty plastic bags/film, dirty foil and Styrofoam are often unavoidable
  • Recycle – good for aluminum cans and glass bottles, especially
  • Compost – you may want to have a couple receptacles for this so that things like cups can have the liquid dumped and cup then nested with other empty cups and composted

Call a commercial composter. All food waste, including animal fat (meat, dairy) can go in the compost bin with a commercial composter. On Chicago’s North Shore, call Collective Resource (, a company dedicated to “reducing landfill through commercial composting” in offices, restaurants, schools and at events. For a fee, they will drop off your containers and pick them up after your event. Containers are 5 gallon buckets or 32 gallon toters and are labeled and specially bagged for compost use. At time of this writing, Collective Resource was also available (for a fee) to staff your event. However, with a few signs, this may not be necessary (see below). Call Collective Resource for a quote.

Also, visit for assistance with your event.

Source your place settings, especially utensils and cups. Whole Foods and Party City carry compostable lines. It’s true that they’re slightly more expensive than other, sturdy items. If you’re having a large crowd, the internet offers volume discounts. Here’s a helpful hint: April is an excellent month to be looking for values in green-ware because of Earth Day. Online, try and, both of which have offered free shipping with minimum purchase. A few plugs:

And of course, consider using your home’s washable dishes as much as possible.

Deal with the drinks dilemma. Buy and serve in bulk where you can.

  • Water/lemonade: buy a thermal 2-gallon or 5-gallon water cooler with spout so guests can refill their cups.
  • Soft drinks: buy in bulk – 2 liter bottles, so that you run out of one container before starting another. You can also easily return any unopened bottles to the store.
  • Beer/wine: these are some of the most recycle-friendly drinks already in that they come in glass and aluminum.

Make signs to go with your waste stations. Ideas may include:

  • Recycle: glass, aluminum cans, cardboard, paper, plastic 1–5 and 7
  • Compost: all food, napkins, plates, special cups and utensils
  • Landfill: anything that cannot be composted or recycled

02G68652Party time! On the day of the event, post your signs, take a quick minute as the gathering gets started to educate your guests, and get ready to feel great about what you’re doing for the earth. Keep toters and buckets outside or in the garage until they’re picked up by the composter.

Smile! You just kept the earth healthier and exposed your guests to doing good, too.

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