As the events industry casts an eager eye towards the reopening of venues and the return of physical or hybrid events we are facing some real challenges. One of the most compelling questions facing planners and their destination counterparts is how to do this safely and sustainably. We can take on this opportunity to mitigate what is expected to be a historic increase in single-use packaging across meeting-related food and beverage by including composting.
Whether a move away from “durables” is actually safer, is open to debate. If your venue, planning team, or client is likely to mandate single-use items such as:
- Boxed lunches
- Wrapped foods
There is a way forward to help minimize the abundance of single-use packaging. Composting, when executed correctly will:
- Reduce landfill waste
- Support circularity
- Lower carbon
- Often generate some renewable energy along the way
What follows is a little “food for thought” around a topic that is poised to play an important and increased role in the next incarnation of sustainable events.
What is Composting?
In a waste management sense, the terms “compost” and “organic” are nearly interchangeable. They refer to a material composed of living matter. This is the process of decomposition back into the soil. In this way, compostable and organic waste streams begin and end in the earth. These programs are critically important to waste reduction. Composting can be a real game-changer for events.
A Successful Composting Example
During a 5-day conference our MeetGreen team helped support sustainability planning. The venue teams recorded composting 68% of the entire waste stream! In addition, as one of the final outputs from composting is the soil itself. Which makes it highly possible for venues to source regional produce grown from their very own organic material. A scenario like this can represent one of the most powerful and inspiring examples of circularity at its finest.
Back of House “Wet” Waste Compost
When “tracing the waste” in venue and hotel settings, there are typically two primary sources that produce organics and compostable material. The first is what we often refer to as the back of house “wet” waste. This includes items like:
- Food preparation scraps
- Spoiled food
- Leftover meals that cannot be donated or eaten by staff
These forms of waste, which are often quite heavy due to their high water content, are typically easy to collect operationally because they occur back of house and do not intersect the general public.
Public-Facing “Service Ware” Compost
In contrast, the public-facing “service ware” side of composting is where many of our organics programs tend to encounter their biggest obstacles to implementation. Ensuring your event can recover and export a clean stream of its organic material to a partner site is no easy feat. Convention Centers and hotels across the country have found time and time again that even with detailed signage in place there are challenges. Front of house compost bins simply become too contaminated without either a:
- “Waste ambassador” team to help with curation
- The addition of secondary onsite sorting
Successful bio-composting requires nearly 100% organic content input, which is why the emphasis on education and execution is paramount.
Procuring and Sourcing of Compost Materials
A somewhat unexpected nuance of composting and events is procuring and sourcing within the strict parameters of what your partner organics site will accept. Composting processes can vary quite a bit overall. Even within the same region, “feedstock” material preferences have evolved rapidly in recent years.
- A shift away from corn-based “PLA bioplastics” due to challenges in decomposition
- Concerns related to paper products containing chemical substances referred to as “PFAS”
The dynamic nature of event composting is a reminder that teams will need to factor adequate time in the planning process to ensure these waste management loops are closed. Compost logistics are not always easy. However, they are essential to your diversion. With only 9% of the world’s plastic recycled globally, it is an effective strategy towards mitigating the impacts from disposable packaging.
Composting can support climate action as well. When producing renewable energy through anaerobic “biogas” digestion. Carbon impacts can be reduced by 98% when compared to the landfilling disposable service ware. (DEFRA)
In conclusion, as our industry plans for a sustainable and safe reopening, there has never been a better time to consider the benefits of composting and organics programs at our events and venues!