How to Achieve Zero Waste at an Event

Event Waste Over Time

From our very first conference in 1994, MeetGreen has been directly concerned with the impacts of event waste and waste reduction. Our approaches have evolved quite a bit since then, but are rooted in questions such as, how can we accurately measure, account for, and better understand the central inputs and outputs of our event waste stream? And then, how can we reduce and improve these over a consistent period of time?

This methodology and the severity of the issues surrounding event waste was validated more than a decade later when the United States Environmental Protection Agency listed the meetings, conventions, and events industry as the second most waste producing industry in our nation. While recent years have seen a marked improvement since those darkest days of the EPA assessment, there remains a substantial and striking gap between a small number of high-performing properties and events and the rest of the pack. At present there is not an event-specific diversion rate for our field, but if the present average diversion rate of 36% for United States cities is any indication, there is still tremendous room to grow for our meetings and conventions. While event waste management in the United States varies widely, in recent years, one term has begun to gain main-stream traction in our lexicon around exemplary achievement: Zero Waste.

What Does a Zero Waste Event Mean?

Interestingly, at present, there is not a universally agreed upon definition for what Zero Waste means. A quick foray into market research on this topic will substantiate there is a fairly wide range of options and approaches as well as the lack of a single comprehensive standard embraced industry wide. These factors are further complicated by the many differences and unique nuances of each gathering, whether it be a multi-day conference with hotels and venues, an evening music concert, or a week-long golf tournament. Often however, Zero Waste can refer to an event achieving a diversion rate from landfill of 90% or greater, while in other cases, it could be considered to mean an event that produced 0% landfill waste.

Waste Profile Source: UUA GA 2019

Where Does MeetGreen Stand?

While MeetGreen unequivocally supports landfill reduction at events becoming elevated in the public consciousness, the term “Zero Waste” has never innately been one of our favorite descriptors, largely as a result of its confusing and sometimes misleading definitions. In some cases as well, Zero Waste events have also become synonymous with implying a “quick fix” to event sustainability with the focus exclusively on diversion rates alone, rather than reduction or a long-term comprehensive approach to holistic sustainable event planning.

Also troubling is that we are presently witnessing major waste management companies offering Zero Waste services at events whose impartiality in the process may be questionable. In addition, there are a plethora of loopholes or ways of achieving diversion such as shipping a substantial array of boxes of so called “hard to recycle” items whose true end markets and actual recyclability are nearly impossible to verify. Which leads to the questions: is this really the aspiration of Zero Waste and is this approach really the one that best serves our event, our teams, and the planet from a cross-cutting, long-term perspective?

MeetGreen® Verified

There is a better way! Meet Green is excited to offer MeetGreen Verified, our third-party verification and reporting services tailored specifically to waste and events. MeetGreen Verified offers an impartial, comprehensive and transparent approach to assessing and reporting the impact of your event waste.