Project Description

About the Toolkit

Ontario is home to more than 3,000 annual festival and events that host millions of attendees. All the things that we commonly enjoy at these festivals and events, including food, beverages and other products, often cause wastes that are typically sent to disposal. Ontario’s festival and events contribute to the 12 million tonnes of materials that go into Ontario’s landfills every year. Event organizers and municipalities that host events have an important opportunity to demonstrate their environmental leadership, both to their patrons and to their host communities. We welcome you to the Zero Waste Community Event Toolkit website, a guide for all users who want to celebrate both their events and the earth.

Project Contributors

  • Jo-Anne St. Godard, Executive Director, Recycling Council of Ontario
  • Sarah Mills, Project Coordinator, Recycling Council of Ontario
  • Dave Douglas, VisionQuest Environmental Strategies Corp.
  • Sally Leppard, Jean-Louis Gaudet, Sue Beazley, Barry Randall, Lura Consulting

Advisory Committee

A special notice of appreciation is extended to the members of our Advisory Committee (AC) who volunteered their time and expertise to provide input into the development of the Zero Waste Community Event Toolkit.  Each individual on the AC contributed a wealth of knowledge based on their professional experiences that greatly contributed to the development of a well rounded understanding and assessment of both macro and micro level nuances associated with the planned management and handling of the waste produced at public event venues.  The AC members include:

  • Sylvain Allard, Bureau De Normalization Du Quebec
  • Ted Blowes, Communities in Bloom
  • Mike Dimaso, Exhibition Place
  • Elaine Flis, Canadian Restaurant & Foodservice Association
  • Glenda Geis, Waste Management Consultant
  • Catherine Habermeble, Region of Niagara
  • Harold Mah, City of Toronto – Special Events
  • Debbie Mann, Festivals Events Ontario
  • Mark Monahan, Ottawa Blues Fest
  • Kimberley Johnson, Ontario Ministry of Tourism
  • Paul Kadlick, Rotary Club (Burlington Ribfest)
  • Natalie Patierre, Ottawa Blues Fest
  • Lino Pessoa, City of Toronto
  • Krista Power, Tourism Ontario /  First Nations
  • Andre (AJ) Sauve, Ottawa Blues Fest
  • Robert Sweeting, Ontario Ministry of Tourism
  • Jennifer Turnbull, Ontario Ministry of the Environment
  • Paul Van der Werf, 2cg
  • Catherine Wittke, Conestoga College

Funding Support

This toolkit was funded by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and produced by the Recycling Council of Ontario (RCO). RCO acknowledges and thanks the event organisers from around the world who contributed to the background research conducted for this toolkit.

The actions, tips and tools presented in this toolkit were developed based, in part, on an extensive review of best practices from events around the world. This toolkit has been organized to target waste at the three key stages of your event process – planning the event, during the event, and post-event. The toolkit provides information and tips on topics such as planning, volunteers, contracting, working with vendors and event suppliers. Examples of environmental policies and templates for recording information about your event are also provided to help you with your planning. The developers of this toolkit recognized that community events can differ greatly, in terms of size, resources, type and location.  It attempts to provide practical information and tools which can be applied, in part or whole, to all situations. You can work through the whole kit, or you can focus on the issues that matter most to you.

The toolkit is presented as a series of “modules” within each of the three event stages. Within each module (where applicable), you will find a “tool” to help you implement the action checklist items presented in the module. As well, you are invited to read helpful snapshots from other events in the “Windows into Zero Waste” sections, which highlight some of the best practices from the events reviewed.

As technical and policy advances are made and as lessons are learned from implementation of this toolkit, it will be refined and updated as needed.

Getting Started

Support is Essential

Before you embark on developing a zero waste program for your event, you will need to gain the support of the numerous parties involved, including:

  • Event owners, committees, and/or Board of Directors
  • Event site owners/management
  • Sponsors
  • Vendors
  • Waste diversion service contractors

Before approaching these parties with your zero waste plans, consider the following:

  1. Talk up the idea with others involved in the event; start to identify others who have the same interest in making zero waste a priority.
  2. Start taking notes and phone numbers, identify key event people, learn how the event is organized, and how it operates.
  3. Review the various sections of this toolkit to get an idea of the range of things you need to consider doing in the first year and in subsequent years.
  4. Put your ideas on paper and get input from event authorities as well as volunteers and other people you have consulted.
  5. Decide if you will form a Green Team
  6. Once you have your ideas together, consider introducing your intention to organize a zero waste event by letter [see sample letter below] to the Organizing Committee and/or Board of Directors. By doing a presentation that focuses on the environmental, financial and public image benefits of being involved, you will be more likely to gain their buy-in. You will then be well-positioned to approach the other parties involved.

Communication is Key

To some extent, the success of your zero waste event is all about communication. Over the course of planning your zero waste event, you will need to communicate

Internally – to the event organization, committees, staff/volunteers, green team, vendors, sponsors, exhibitors, service providers, and

Externally – to the public and media.

Different modes and styles of communication work better for some events and not others. If the core organizing group for your event is really not into email, for example, then communicating your zero waste ideas by phone probably makes more sense.

Internal Communications

Use clear language that can be understood by your audience. The language of “zero waste” can get pretty complicated and it needs to be kept simple.

Don’t move too fast! Make sure people you’re talking to are on board with the concepts of zero waste before jumping into complex issues.

Keep reminding people of the overall vision and reason zero waste is a good idea.

Zero waste programs need a “leader.” If you’re that person, be confident in your presentations and keep your eye on the vision. Most importantly that can only work if the leader has a supportive team.

External Communications

Consider the demographics of the audience(s) for your event in choosing your communications methods.

Plan your pre-event advertising well in advance of the event [see Communications and Event Promotion module]

Consider using multiple communications methods (e.g., web, radio, print) for communicating the zero waste aspects of your event.

Working Your Plan…..with gusto!

Once all of your ducks are lined up in a row, it is time to WORK the plan that you and your colleagues have developed. As you move along, you will learn that some things are worth worrying about, some things are not. Only experience teaches these things. However, a few key points to remember as the event approaches include:

Be Flexible. Understand that most of the people you are working with are volunteers and are all at different levels of experience, interest and maturity when it comes to working with other people and with “zero waste” issues.

Be Firm. Implementing a zero waste plan requires that everyone fulfills the commitment they have made to make the whole plan work. Help people learn from mistakes and move forward.

Be Calm. Keep an eye on every aspect of the zero waste system. Don’t get too caught up in micro managing things that other people have been assigned to, unless there’s a real problem.

Be Supportive. Get people moving in the right direction by demonstrating or explaining the correct approach rather than focussing on what they have done wrong……move forward.

Zero Waste Policies

Your event may already have a commitment to the environment or “greening” in its mission statement or organizational plan. Ideally, this will be the case and adding a zero waste policy will be the icing on the cake. If your event organization does not have environmental objectives, this is your chance to make a difference! A zero waste policy is a broad-level statement of commitment from which specific actions to reduce waste can flow. Your zero waste policy can be the statement that guides the actions in your zero waste action plan. You can also develop a series of policies that target specific problem materials or activities.

Your zero waste policy should be endorsed by the event organization initially, and then signed or endorsed by the sponsors, vendors and contractors associated with the event. The policy should be developed early in your planning process. Ideally, it should be part of the presentation you make to your event organization Board of Directors and/or planning committee when you are first trying to sell the idea of a zero waste event. This way, the event organization members will have a good understanding upfront of what the zero waste goals are for the event and have the opportunity to provide input into the policy.

Action Checklist

Prepare a zero waste policy for your event that will:

  • Set a target date for achieving zero waste (e.g., within 5 years)
  • Commit to waste minimization until the target can be reached
  • Be written in plain language
  • Be inspirational to the event planning committee
  • Be communicated to event stakeholders
  • Communicate your zero waste policy to everyone involved in the event (e.g., staff, volunteers, waste diversion service providers, vendors, public) and post it publicly
  • Include your zero waste policy in contracts/agreements with vendors, suppliers and sponsors

Global Best Practice


At the Harmony Festival in Sonoma County, CA, one of the zero waste policies includes prohibiting the sale of single-use water bottles, which can make up a significant portion of waste at outdoor festivals. Instead, free water stations are provided.  EarthFest in Knoxville, TN has a policy that bans polystyrene from being used by vendors at the event, since it is not recyclable in the area. 

Zero Waste Action Plan

To make your event zero waste, you need to develop an action plan. The plan will guide you through the various stages of event planning and tell you what you need to do at each stage to minimize waste. Your plan doesn’t need to be complicated. This toolkit provides you with a basic template from which you can build a plan that suits your goals and situation.

The action items of your plan should be organized under the following headings:

  • Pre-Event
  • During the Event
  • Post-Event

The modules in this toolkit correspond to each of these headings and will provide you with the actions you need to include in each section of your plan. What actions you chose to incorporate into your plan will depend on many variables, including the size of your event, the type of event, the venue, your resources, the complexity of the event and its management. Don’t forget to include written “goals and objectives” as well as a budget for zero waste activities in your workplan and have it approved well in advance of your event date.

Volunteer Recruitment & Training

A zero waste initiative for your event may be a hard sell or a “no brainer.” If an event is struggling to maintain a volunteer base or recruit volunteers for the vast number of volunteer positions available, it may be a tough sell to add people to a “green team” when the event Board of Directors is three people short of a quorum. You get the picture. On the other hand, event greening is gaining popularity. Making your event zero waste may infuse new energy to the planning committee and attract youth to assist with your event. But in order for your volunteers to help you achieve your zero waste vision, they need training.

Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in. — Marjorie Moore, Minds Eye Information Service, Belleville, IL, USA

Your volunteers can play a variety of roles depending on your event. These roles can include the following:

  • Working with vendors and exhibitors during set-up and take-down to recycle properly.
  • Communicating recycling information during the event.
  • Monitoring recycling stations to ensure proper separation of materials.
  • Sorting materials that have been collected in the wrong bins.
  • Transporting recyclables from bins to collection points.
  • Preparing recyclables back-of-house for collection (e.g., flattening cardboard, rinsing containers, removing contaminants).
  • Surveying patrons or collecting data.

To make the most of your volunteers and to help make their experience rewarding as well, it is important to plan ahead to decide what their roles will be and how you will train them. Managing your team of volunteers will be made easier if one person is assigned to lead the team of volunteers. This volunteer coordinator may be a volunteer themselves or a paid staff person assigned to the job. The volunteer coordinator can take on a number of key roles including:

  • Recruiting, training and delegating jobs to volunteers
  • Directing signage production and/or placement
  • Tracking waste diversion rates
  • Monitoring collection sites for problems
  • Directing or responding to media requests during the event

Global Best Practice

At any event, you will have two broad areas where all of the action takes place. Behind the scenes areas are usually referred to as “back of house.” This is where vendors and exhibitors unload their goods, where food production happens, and where waste gets stored until it is taken away by your waste diversion service provider. The “front of house” is the area that event patrons see, use and enjoy. It includes the publicly-accessible waste collection sites located through your event.


Volunteers are trained and co-ordinated by Green Mary, a local contractor, to monitor bins and ensure that waste streams are kept separate. A zero waste co-ordinator or substitute was on site at all times and available by radio or cell phone in the event of issues arising that site monitors could not handle.


In 2008, the Ottawa Bluesfest instituted a comprehensive recycling program to minimize waste created by the event. To better manage these programs, Bluesfest recruited volunteers for its ‘Green Team’ to inform patrons how to best participate in the festival’s green initiatives.

Green Procurement

What comes in must go out. Remember that what your event invites onto the site needs to gosomewhere following the event. To minimize the amount of waste that needs to be landfilled, try using as many reusable, recyclable and compostable items as possible. And to minimize your event’s overall environmental “footprint,” buy recycled content when you can.

Green procurement is where you and your event organization will be able to have a great influence over the amount of waste generated onsite and diverted from your event. Green procurement involves the purchasing of products and services that have a lesser or reduced effect on human health and the environment when compared with competing products or services that serve the same purpose. A green product is one that is less harmful than the next best alternative.

By making green procurement choices, and requiring the same of your vendors and exhibitors, you can have an enormous impact on the amount of materials that end up in the landfill following your event. Green procurement can also save your event organization money. The fewer materials that need to be removed from the event site, the lower your waste hauling costs will be. Buying durable and reusable goods will also save money on purchases in the long term.

Action Checklist

  • Establish a “green procurement” policy [see toolbox] to which your event planning organization, vendors & exhibitors must adhere.
  • Specify acceptable and unacceptable materials in agreements with vendors and exhibitors.
  • Know what materials your municipality and/or destination landfill, recycling and/or composting plant will accept.
  • Know and communicate the materials your waste diversion service provider will accept for recycling/composting so that event staff, vendors and exhibitors can purchase accordingly.
  • Consider making “green” purchases in bulk and supplying your vendors and exhibitors directly, instead of each individually sourcing their own purchases. Vendors and exhibitors could work together to support common needs.
  • Set zero foot print policies that vendors and exhibitors must take all materials back with them when they leave.

Global Best Practice

Environmental Choice Program

Eco-labeling or environmental labeling indicates that a product meets standards of environmental soundness that are supported by extensive research into the product’s impact on the environment. The Environmental Choice® Program is Environment Canada’s eco-labeling program. It provides access to a list of more environmentally responsible products and services that have received the EcoLogo certification.

Planet Bluegrass Festival, Telluride, CO

Organizers of this open-air music festival used 100% recycled content in paper products and soy inks. Vendors of the event were strictly mandated to only use compostable plates, utensils and cups materials. Local research identified a brewery that was willing to supply a reusable cup option for the beer tent. A local energy provider was also on board to supply renewable energy in the form of credits to the festival. Waste diversion data was tracked and 49% of the waste was either composted or recycled – a 20% increase compared to the previous year.

Bin Placement and Management

The success of your zero waste event will depend largely on the appropriate placement and management of your collection bins. Sorting recyclables into each of their respective material types (glass, metal, plastics etc) makes them generally easier to recycle and as a result, typically more valuable. Sorting materials at the collection bins is referred to as “source separating” because the materials are separated “at the source.” Setting up collection “depots” where visitors can source separate their waste into the proper bins means you will have less sorting to do at the end of the event.

Effective collection and logistics is something that your waste/recycling service provider should help you with. This expectation should be included in your contract with your service provider so your diversion goals are clear and payment of the contract is dependent on them meeting your expectations. In many cases the service provider can offer collection bins; you may wish to consider this a requirement in your contract as well.

Collection depots should be considered for your event patrons ‘front of house” as well as for your vendors and exhibitors “back of house” Many times the wastes are generated from either of these areas can be very different. When you are ‘signing up’ vendors and exhibitors, it is a good idea to ask them to ‘predict’ the types of waste they anticipate they may generate. Then you will be well prepared with the most efficient collection tools.

Developing a waste management collection plan will help you think strategically about the location of your collection depots, back-of-house & front-of-house collection area(s) and routes for servicing bins. A waste management collection plan is simply a map of your event site that identifies:

  • bin locations
  • numbers and types of bins at each location
  • routes for service vehicles such as equipment suppliers, vendors and waste diversion service providers before, during and after the event
  • food/beverage vendors who may require more frequent waste collection.

You may also wish to consider setting up a zero waste booth to promote the event’s zero waste aspects. Your waste collection plan will help you strategically locate this booth.

Bin Monitoring, Tracking & Reporting

Regular monitoring of waste collection bins will help you identify whether things are going well or if adjustments are needed. You want to set up your materials collection areas so that monitoring the bins is easy and effective. Creating “collection depots” at which all types of collection bins (i.e., recycling, organics and garbage) are placed will allow your volunteers to monitor more than one waste stream at once. Volunteers stationed at these depots can easily track the number of bags that get collected per station. This type of information can be recorded in your zero waste event report  and can be used to inform planning for next year’s event.

Action Checklist


  • Draft a ‘performance’ based waste/recycling service contract [see Tool 7 for an example] RCO to  provide sample contract
  • Anticipate what types of wastes you will likely have to deal with (containers, food, utensils)
  • From your list decide what your target materials are for collection for recycling, compositing and    garbage.
  • Decide what types of bins and collection depots are needed.
  • Check with the waste service provider to find out what types of bins they can offer.
  • Develop a waste management collection plan


  • Arrange front-of-house collection areas (e.g., number & type of bins)
  • Develop collection strategies for dealing with special wastes such as cigarette butts, diapers and bathroom waste.
  • Develop a strategy [e.g., locks, volunteer monitors] to secure bins in their locations so that vendors and patrons can’t move them.
  • Assign volunteers to monitor front-of-house bins.
  • Ensure a plan is in place to keep collection areas tidy.


  • Arrange back-of-house collection areas (e.g., number & type of bins, access points for waste diversion service providers, location of food oil drums and compactors [if needed])
  • Decide how waste collection areas are to be secured overnight [if you event is multiple days] from vandals and/or pests
  • Reserve a back-of-house recycling bin for corrugated cardboard. Particularly during set-up, vendors and exhibitors will have plenty.
  • Assign volunteers to monitor back-of-house bins

Global Best Practice

A Note About Pests

Your event collection bins will likely collect a variety of foods and food residues that little critters love to feast upon. During the event, your bins may get visits from bees and wasps attracted by leftover sweet liquids and foods. Although collection bins with tight fitting lids will deter these insects, such lids may also deter patrons from using the bins correctly or at all, so you need to consider this when choosing bins for your event.

The best way to deal with insects is prevention. Clean collection areas will be less likely to attract pests and more likely to attract patrons to use them. Incorporate plans to hose down bins periodically so that food residues are washed away. Empty the bins on a regular basis so that they don’t overflow and expose food to hungry insects. Spray the outside of bins periodically with vinegar to discourage bees. If you have the resources, assign a volunteer to each collection area to ensure the bins stay as clean as possible.

Hillside Festival – Guelph, ON

The site co-ordinator for the Hillside Festival uses a simple PowerPoint program – in combination with AutoCAD – to generate site layout maps that can be easily used by waste management and other crews to design the locations of the front-of-house depots and central collection areas. The designs are easily shared on the internet, and with limited training, crew chiefs can manage their own area’s site layout. Each of the designs is integrated into the overall festival site layout.

Contracting with Vendors, Exhibitors and Suppliers

Clearly communicating your zero waste message to vendors, exhibitors ,suppliers and waste diversion service providers early in the event planning process is important so that they are aware of your diversion goals and clearly understand their roles as it relates to those goals.

Vendors – particularly food vendors – are the major contributor to the quantities of waste generated at most events. Much of the waste comes from disposable dishware, cutlery and cups, beverage containers, and food scraps. Food preparation discards (e.g., corn cob skins, potato peelings) and packaging materials can make up a large portion of waste generated behind the scenes.

If your zero waste plans include organics waste collection, then you will need to inform your vendors and exhibitors of this, and of their related responsibilities, prior to contracting with them. Some education of these groups may be needed to inform them of what materials can be composted. You will also need to check with waste diversion service provider receiving your organic waste to see what types of biodegradable and compostable materials they will accept and share this information in your contracts with vendors, exhibitors and suppliers. You should note that not all “biodegradable” materials are necessarily “compostable” in all municipal centralized composting systems.

Action Checklist

  • Inform vendors, exhibitors and suppliers – prior to contracting – that your event will be zero waste and talk to them about what they can do to meet your zero waste policy.
  • Find out in advance what types and amounts of materials vendors and exhibitors are likely to use and dispose of and when (e.g., during set-up, at the end of the event). How these materials should be dealt with should be laid out in your zero waste plan.
  • Work with these vendors to find areas where wastes can be reduced and/or avoided. (e.g. Can goods be delivered with returnable packaging?)
  • Consider having meetings with vendors, exhibitors and suppliers prior to the event to discuss waste collection.
  • Incorporate a specific zero waste clause in vendor/exhibitor/supplier contracts and agreements. Identify any specific items that are disallowed on site because they can’t be recycled (e.g., polystyrene). Suggest alternatives where necessary.
  • Be clear with vendors and exhibitors about how waste needs to be separated and collected, and give them the tools (e.g., collection bins, signage) to be able to do it properly.
  • If your event decides to use a “dishwashing” system with reusable plates and containers, ensure that vendors are “on board” with this system well in advance of the event.
  • Watch for unauthorized marketers/sellers on the site. They may be selling trinkets or disposable items that contradict the zero waste message of your event and add to waste volumes.

Global Best Practice

What is Centralizing Composting?

Municipalities use centralized systems to turn municipal food and plant waste into valuable compost. The systems vary by municipality and include the following:

  • Open Windrow Composting –involves forming windrows of organic materials and periodically turning the windrows to improve aeration and mixing
  • Covered Aerated Static Pile Composting – organic waste is placed over a network of perforated pipes, typically on an engineered base, and then covered with a membrane permeable to oxygen and carbon dioxide but impermeable to larger molecules
  • In-Vessel Composting – composting takes place in a controlled manner in an enclosed vessel or chamber
  • Vermiculture – organic waste is fed to and processed by worms
  • Anaerobic Digestion – organic waste is degrade by bacteria in an oxygen-free environment, producing biogas as a by-product

Window into Zero Waste

Glastonbury Festival, U.K.

The vendor permit for the Glastonbury Festival specified what type of foodware could be used and banned the use of certain disposables. Sellers were only allowed to serve food and drinks on biodegradable paper plates, cups and use wooden utensils. Wholesalers of biodegradable products were on site to sell to vendors. A non-profit composting group was engaged to monitor vendors and service providers. 15,000 bins around the site are labelled for different types of recyclable materials. About 50% of waste is recycled, which is a larger amount than for most UK towns.

Contracting with Waste Diversion Service

Waste diversion service providers who move materials off-site play an important role in your zero waste event.  Urban and rural locations differ considerably in the level of service available in the following categories:

  • Garbage Collection– Contractors are usually available to provide a large “roll-off” bin on site to receive materials collected during the course of the event. Depending on event attendance and amount of material generated, the bins are usually delivered before the event and picked up after the event.
  • Recycling Stream – Recyclable materials (e.g., plastics, cans, bottles, old corrugated cardboard (OCC), boxboard) are often collected by the same contractor as garbage. You need to clearly understand the process and restrictions of the local recycling system in order to design your on-site collection and delivery system. If the local recycling company prefers that material to be delivered in 3 or 4 separate streams, its up to you to work with your waste diversion service provider to retrofit your event to maximize that., The more material separation required, the more collection bins are needed and the more comprehensive the signage and communications must be.
  • The Organic Stream – Collecting organic wastes separately for composting provides and excellent opportunity for events to boast their diversion rates. Managing this waste stream requires some extra steps but could represent and additional 30% diversion from landfill.  Many waste diversion service providers in Ontario have systems in place that can support the collection of organic waste. Check with your local municipalities or service provider to understand your options.

 Action Checklist


  • Identify early on the types of collection containers offered by each of your materials service providers, so that you can plan signage and bin placement appropriate for those containers.
  • Ensure that the containers being provided by your service provider do not contain imprints or attached signage that will conflict with your messaging.
  • Write into your contract that you will require tonnage figures of materials collected, disposed and diverted from landfill, so that you can gauge the success of your waste diversion efforts and to provide a benchmark against which you can gauge future efforts [see Waste Audit Guide tool]
  • Find out where your service provider will take the materials collected from your event and write into the contract that you require waybills from each place to which materials are delivered.
  • Identify and confirm markets for recyclables.
  • Write into your contract that you want financial reports back from service providers on amounts collected.
  • Consult with your local Ministry of Environment office to confirm the service provider is legitimate.

Recycling Collection

  • Ask your waste diversion service provider what their requirements are for recyclables. For example, do they allow mix the collection of recyclables or do they need each material separated by type (paper from plastic from glass etc.)  You need to know this in advance so that you can create your signage accordingly.
  • Consider not charging your vendors and exhibitors for recycling hauling to encourage participation in recycling.

Organics Collection

  • Well before your event, ensure that agreements with organic waste collection service providers are signed. You don’t want to find out at the last minute that you don’t have someone to remove your organic waste. .
  • Establish timelines for frequency of collection service. Error on the side of being more frequent than less frequent to avoid having large amounts of organic waste sitting on site for extended periods.
  • Ensure that your service provider picks up organic wastes up at the end of each day of your event or that the wastes are secured overnight to avoid disturbance by pests.

Permits and Regulations

In general, event planners are required to obtain a permit (or a series of permits) from their municipality in order to run their event. Permitting also provides municipalities with an opportunity to encourage local events to reduce the amount of waste they generate and prescribe how wastes generated at the event are managed, which in turn can bring them closer to achieving their waste diversion targets. For example, municipal permits may dictate responsibility for waste management on-site and removal off-site, the types of materials that might be collected by the municipality or required for private hauling. Event planners should check with their local municipal authorities about waste diversion requirements when getting their permitting in order.

Waste diversion service providers contracted by event planners are generally responsible for any permits required to move waste materials (such as recyclables, organics, or waste) off site. Event planners concerned about the end market for any of these materials (some recyclables have ended up in landfills or quarries) should find out from their service provider about how the materials are handled once they leave the site.

Permitting can come into play when organizing how materials are collected on site – on-site materials collection depots need to be strategically located and designed in such a way as to pose no threat to public safety or health department restrictions

Action Checklist

  • Find out what permits or regulations apply, if any, to collection of wastes on site or the placement of containers.
  • Check with local health authorities to ensure they support any food or drink-related initiatives you plan to implement (e.g., using refillable mugs, reusable cutlery, serving condiments from bulk containers instead of single-serving packets).
  • Check with local health, environment and fire authorities for any controls related to access, storage or delivery of discarded materials from your site

Sponsorship Agreements

Events rely on the donations and sponsorship they receive from their partnership.  Sponsors of events recognize the “value” of associating themselves with environmentally friendly practices and “green thinking.” It is important that event sponsors understand and endorse the zero waste principals of your event upfront and are willing to participate. You don’t want to find out later that there was a misunderstanding about what is expected of the sponsor as a participant in your event. If a sponsor is unwilling to recognize your zero waste goals and policies, or even worse, hinder them, you may want to approach other funders who are more suitable.

The best way to manage these expectations is in a sponsorship agreement. For smaller, more informal events this may mean a simple exchange of a letter; for other situations, a formal sponsorship agreement may be necessary. This agreement must clearly state the event goals and what is expected of the sponsors. For example, if a beer company is participating as a sponsor at an outdoor festival and wish that their cups be used for all beverages on site, you could stipulate that their participation as a sponsor is contingent on the cups being compostable or recyclable. . As the event manager of your zero waste event, you have the ability to determine whose sponsorship you accept and under what terms and conditions.

In negotiating with potential sponsors, ask how the sponsor will meet your zero waste goals and be sure that their contributions will add support to your zero waste event. Be sure that your sponsor’s claims regarding environmental practices or the environmental benefits of a product or service are verifiable. You don’t want to find out after your event that one of your sponsor’s claims was untrue. It could damage the reputation of your event.

In-Kind Sponsorships

Waste diversion service providers or suppliers of bins and compostable dinnerware may be willing to discount the cost of their supplies or services in exchange for placement of their logo on signage around the event. These can greatly reduce costs for you, but be aware that their contributions are genuine and supportive of your goals.

Green Sponsor

This is a sponsor who supports the costs of improved diversion and communications efforts.  This sponsor could be profiled on all of the recycling bins or on marketing materials for the event.

Action Checklist

  • Inform sponsors up front about your event’s zero waste policy.
  • Require sponsors to sign an agreement that indicates endorsement and participation to support the zero waste policy.
  • Ensure sponsors engage in business practices that support your zero waste or “green” principles.
  • Encourage sponsors to seek creative ways that they can contribute to your event’s zero waste goals (e.g., by sponsoring the supply of reusable souvenir cups).

Global Best Practice

Summerfolk Festival, Owen Sound, ON

The Summerfolk Festival in Owen Sound, ON has a sponsorship agreement with the local waste and recycling hauler to provide their pick up and disposal services at no cost in exchange for acknowledgement in the festival program. Private sector operators value the opportunity to associate themselves with community events and environmental activities.

Signage and Messaging

Effective signage and messaging are essential to your zero waste event. As soon as a patron arrives, the “culture of conservation” must be nurtured. Signage is usually the first indication a patron will get that your event is zero waste. Your event may require various types, sizes and numbers of signs. The keys to communicating effectively are consistency, simplicity and engagement.

Action Checklist

  • Develop a look and feel for the zero waste component of your event and include it on all communications pieces.
  • Develop your key message for your sign that articulates your environmental goals and objectives, perhaps you’ll want to state your new environmental policy.
  • Develop a plan for your signage/messaging that includes:
  • Numbers, sizes and types of signs needed
  • Posting locations
  • Deadlines for graphic design and printing
  • Messaging required for each sign
  • Use durable signage at waste collection sites, for event tents/locations, for directional signage, etc. that can be reused at future events. Seek environmentally-friendly options [see sidebar] where possible.
  • Use simple and clear messaging on all signs. Pictures of acceptable materials will work best, especially in a multilingual community.
  • Post signs at high traffic routes on event site and where needed to direct specific actions (e.g., recycling).
  • Focus attention on areas where waste generation potential is the highest (e.g., dining areas).

Global Best Practice

Environmentally Friendly Signage

Many companies now offer environmentally-friendly options for signage materials and printing. Examples include:

  • eco-friendly fabrics for banners and displays that contain no heavy metals, PVC resins, phthalates or fungicides
  • soy-based ink for printing
  • biodegradable PVC banners
  • energy-efficient electrical signage
  • signage made from recycled or recyclable materials

Communications – Event Promotion

Before the event, you should inform the local media about what a zero waste event is and your intentions to be one. Not only will it make a great news story, it will serve as extra advertising for your event. Pre-event print, web and radio advertising should also highlight the event as zero waste.

Action Checklist

  • Approach your local paper to see if they will write an public interest story on your environmental policies and practices
  • Send a press release about your zero waste event to local media and, if applicable, specific environment reporters/publications. Clearly articulate your diversion goals.
  • Arrange for photo opportunities and/or tours for media during the event.
  • Incorporate zero waste messaging into all pre-event advertising, including your event’s website and any promotional materials.
  • Use paperless advertising (e.g., website, radio) as much as possible.
  • Use recycled content paper and soy ink for print advertising.

Global Best Practice

Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, Manchester, TN

Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Tennessee promotes the event as a “green event” and has sponsored a “greening segment” on TV to promote the event’s green initiatives, which have included:

  • using biodegradable wraps, plates, cups and cutlery manufactured from a renewable resource
  • festival-wide recycling and composting programs
  • using tree-free posters
  • using post-consumer recycled toilet paper for portolets
  • using 100% recycled paper (30% post-consumer) for all of the program and administrative needs

Festival organizers are committed to promoting environmental consciousness and green living. Through the event’s lively website and online “Green Forum,” festival organizers engage Bonnaroo visitors, volunteers and others to discuss green initiatives and ideas for and beyond the festival. As well, the festival uses the website to report back to the Bonnaroo community about its green achievements. Through its efforts, Bonnaroo recycled 60% of its waste in 2007.

All of your pre planning work will be put to the test during the execution of the event. There are always ‘glitches’ and last minute scrambles. The important thing is to note all of the areas where you may need to make changes to continuously improve. All events involve a lot of details!

Communication on site

To gauge the success of your zero waste efforts, you will need to know how much waste you were able to divert from the disposal through reduce, reuse, recycling and composting. Part of this information can be obtained from your waste service contractor, providing it was included in your contract with them.

Additional information can come from tracking wastes during the event or conducting your own waste audit during or after the event. Whether you choose to track wastes during the event or conduct a waste audit will depend largely on your human resources. Your team of volunteers can easily track the number of bags or bins collected over the course of event if you have the resources to station a volunteer at each front-of-house collection depot or at the main collection areas back-of-house.

A waste audit is designed to inventory the vast array of waste materials that are disposed at your event. A waste audit will give you a snapshot of the materials being discarded at the event, which can help you target specific materials for diversion next year. A waste audit will also help you gauge the effectiveness of your recycling and composting efforts by quantifying the amounts of materials disposed of in waste, recycling and composting containers. Auditing all of the waste generated at your event is probably not possible, so you will need to audit just a sample of the waste. The Waste Audit/Tracking Guide provided in this toolkit provides you with instructions for completing your own audit.

Action Checklist

  • Confirm with your waste service contractor(s) when the bins will be picked up and remind them of your interest in obtaining volume and/or weight data for waste, recycling and composting, by material.
  • Conduct a “bag sampling” waste audit prior to collection of materials by the contractor.

Global Best Practice

Ballina Races, Ballinashire, Australia

Announcers at the races were asked to say: “The cup you are drinking out of is recyclable.” This simple announcement really seemed to work – they collected a 3 cubic metre bin full of uncontaminated PET cups! In previous years, the bins had been quite contaminated. The event will use the same announcement in future years.

Monitoring and Sorting

During your event, monitoring of the front-of-house collection depots and back-of-house collection areas (i.e., vendor/exhibitor stalls, pick-up area for waste diversion service providers) will let you know how well things are going and whether any adjustments are needed. Your goal is to have a tidy, efficient and well-functioning waste collection system. To maximize your waste diversion rates, you want to keep each material (plastic, glass, paper etc) stream from being contaminated with differing materials as much as possible.

Some of the more successful zero waste events employ a monitor at each waste collection depot to instruct patrons about which receptacles to use for each type of waste. They also employ monitors to keep an eye on back-of-house disposal and assist vendors/exhibitors with any questions that may arise. Without the monitor, you rely on the strength of your signage and educational campaign to influence people’s habits.

Action Checklist

  • Assign staff or volunteers to monitor the front-of-house and back-of-house collection areas.
  • Ensure that bins are regularly emptied
  • Restrict public access to the back-of-house waste collection pick-up site(s) so that contamination of each collection bin is minimized.
  • If vendors and exhibitors are permitted to discard materials at the waste collection pick-up area(s), ensure that they are informed of each waste stream and post signage on each bin.
  • Take photos of poorly and well-functioning collection depots, littered areas, etc. at different times of the day so that you can have a record for future event planning.

Global Best Practice

Summerfolk Festival, Owen Sound, ON

The “trash crew” at Summerfolk Festival – soon to be renamed the Green Team – uses several ½ ton pickups to carefully circulate throughout the festival site collecting the 5 waste streams and delivering to the “back-of-house” bins. Crew members are well equipped with protective clothing and are trained to do material sorting at the bins and prior to dumping into the larger collection bins. This “source separation” helps reduce post event sorting. Volunteers reported very supportive patrons and a willingness to follow the rules. Although exact numbers have not yet been reported the program was judged the “best ever.”

Live Earth (8 Venues Worldwide)

At Live Earth venues around the world, concessionaires were required to use recyclable or biodegradable materials according to a five-component environmental strategy and the Green Earth Event Guidelines. Vendors and service providers were strictly monitored to ensure guidelines were being followed. Live Earth’s maiden event met its goal in restraining carbon emissions to 19,708 metric tons, while of the 97 metric tons of waste collected, 81% was diverted from landfills via recycling and composting efforts.

Reporting and Publicity

After all the work you put into planning and implementing your zero waste event, you’ll want a record of what you did for next time. Having a report of the event will help with planning your next event and make implementation that much easier. The report should focus on the positive outcomes of the event, as well as areas for improvement. The lessons learned from your event may be useful to other event organizers who want to follow in your footsteps. Your event’s sponsors, site owners and local waste management authorities may also appreciate hearing about your zero waste achievements and where they may be of improved service on the paper. A report will be a handy way to communicate this information. The zero waste event report template provided in this toolkit will guide you in developing your own event report. While the structure of the report may vary depending on its target audience, the table of contents may include:

  • Executive Summary – a brief overview of the report, including a summary of key waste reduction successes.
  • Introduction – What your event was about and who was involved
  • Our Zero Waste Approach – What actions were taken before the event (such as planning, communications, etc)  and during (actions of volunteers, how logistics were rolled out, etc).
  • Our Zero Waste Achievements – Results of the zero waste activities and how they were measured.
  • Next Steps – Suggestions for how the event can be improved.

Action Checklist

  • Prepare a summary report of your event. Begin as soon as possible after the event so everything is fresh in your mind.
  • Report the outcomes of your zero waste efforts on the event website.
  • Send a press release to various media reporting on the zero waste achievements of your event.
  • Have a follow-up meeting with the “green team” and conduct a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats). Schedule when you should hold your first meeting to begin planning for your next event
  • Apply your “lessons learned” to the other events your organization hosts or encourage other organizations to try the zero waste approach.
  • In your report, describe the activities and experiences that took place before, during and after your event. Include a tentative plan for planning your next event.

Even before the last person leaves the site you can begin the “tear down” of the system you have spend a lot of time creating. Any signage, promotional material, bags, etc. that you have used to make your event zero waste should be set aside for use at your next event. This will not only save you or your organization effort next time, it will save time and money.

Keep in mind as well that as the event concludes, volunteers and patrons get a little less “conscious” of some of the “rules” that have been in place throughout the event. Don’t let the last couple hours ruin all of the hard work that has been done to make the event waste free.

The key aspect of Post-Event as it relates to Zero Waste management is reviewing and noting what went well and what needs improvement, as well as tracking and recording all of the generated materials, materials that were successfully sent for recycling and materials that went to disposal.

The Clean Up

Your job doesn’t end the moment the last patron leaves your event. Cleaning up can be a huge undertaking and will include litter collection and preparing waste materials for pick-up. During this time, you have a great opportunity to capture more materials to put in your recycling and composting bins.

Action Checklist

  • Assign volunteers or staff to help with site tear down and collection of on-site bins for final trip to the central waste collection area.
  • Remind your vendors and exhibitors of their requirement to take all materials/structures associated with their booth with them.
  • Ensure that you have a system in place to measure all materials collected and calculate the diversion rate (the materials that went to recycling and or composting)
  • Ensure that the main collection bins for recycling and composting are well-managed and not contaminated with the non-recyclable or non-compostable materials.
  • Provide litter clean-up crew with bags/containers for all waste streams so that they can sort materials into the proper categories as they go.
  • Recover all signage and keep in a safe place for reuse the following year or at other events.
  • Rinse and dry waste collection bins if they are to be stored until the next event.
  • Make sure the site tear-down crew is on board with your “zero waste” policy and that materials are being sorted for reuse, reduction or recycling where possible.

Waste Collection Data

The minute someone arrives at your event, they need to be made aware that it is a zero waste event and of how they can participate. You should create a “culture of conservation” and a feeling of engagement. In addition to the signage discussed in “Before the Event,” you can communicate the zero waste program to patrons in other ways once the event gets underway, including announcements, surveys and through your volunteers.

If appropriate to the event, you may consider hosting a “zero waste booth” which serves as a central meeting location for volunteers and staff, and which functions as an information centre for patrons with questions about your zero waste goals.

Action Checklist

  • Provide speaking notes to MCs and other people with a “voice” at the event that they can use to announce the zero waste activities occurring during the event.
  • Provide specialty T-shirts for volunteers or your green team that promote the event as a zero waste event.
  • Administer a visitor survey to collect feedback about the zero waste program at the event. It will have the dual purpose of communicating the program if a patron is unaware and collecting valuable feedback that can be used to improve future events
  • Encourage your volunteers and staff to spread the zero waste program by word of mouth during the event.
  • Identify the best location for your zero waste booth.
  • Incorporate the zero waste booth into your zero waste event plan and allocate staff/volunteers to occupy the booth throughout the event.
  • Encourage regular communication amongst volunteers to identify problem areas and solutions.

Public and Volunteer Feedback

Evaluating the results of your zero waste efforts is important to determine what worked and what could be improved for the next time. While calculating waste volumes will give you useful quantifiable information, you also need to know qualitative feedback on the success of waste minimization at your event, how patrons responded to your zero waste communications, and their ideas for improvement for your next event. Getting feedback from your volunteers, vendors and exhibitors on operational issues will also help with planning your next event.

Action Checklist

  • Administer a survey to patrons (e.g., on website) following the event to collect feedback about the success of the zero waste program.
  • Interview or survey vendors and exhibitors to collect feedback about the success of the zero waste program.

Global Best Practice

Many events include questions about the zero waste or recycling program within their “Patron Survey” which is used to collect information about attendees’ satisfaction with the event. Questions about the level of awareness of the zero waste program, signage clarity, ideas for improvement, areas of weakness are all good questions to ask.


Action Checklist

  • Create an award for a zero waste champion volunteer – a volunteer who demonstrated the most “passion” for the zero waste project. Recognize their achievement via your event’s website and/or a press release.
  • Create an award for a zero waste champion vendor/exhibitor – a vendor or exhibitor who demonstrated exceptional commitment to zero waste through their practices at the event. Recognize their achievement via your event’s website and/or a press release. Perhaps contemplate a reduction in vendor fees for the upcoming year.
  • Investigate opportunities to nominate your event for green awards from environmental or other organizations.
  • Show your appreciation by hosting a “zero waste” party for your volunteers.