The USDA estimates that 30 to 40 percent of the country’s food supply ends up in landfills, while the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reports that food waste is responsible for roughly the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions as 37 million cars—one in seven on the road today. So we caught up with Meredith Danberg-Ficarelli, director at Common Ground Compost, to find out what brands can do to reduce food and beverage waste at their events. Following are three of her insights.
You Might Also Like:
- How Brands From Bacardi to Salesforce are Tackling Event Food Waste
- Sustainability: The Economist’s Traveling Coffee Cart Serves Up Education on Food Waste
1. Deploy the Experts
The majority of attendees want to make the right choices when it comes to waste, but the signage around waste stations at events can be endlessly confusing. Employing educated attendants to monitor those stations is an effective fix.
“At a food festival or another type of event where there are a wide variety of disposable products that end up in the hands of event attendees—they really need help,” says Danberg-Ficarelli. “It’s not their fault; it’s that materials right now are just very confusing. Having educated zero-waste station attendants will allow attendees to have a more seamless process. It’s also a learning opportunity, whether it’s just for those people to properly dispose of their materials, or for them to learn about where to compost at home.”
2. Partner Up
It takes a village to pull off zero-waste events, which makes developing partnerships with the right vendors paramount. Organizations like Cup Zero in New York City, for example, provide event organizers with 100 percent reusable beverageware, educate event staff and attendees, set up collection points and wash and sanitize them for reuse at a future event.
“Food rescue is a really important partnership structure,” says Danberg-Ficarelli. “Sometimes at events, especially catered events, there are leftovers that really should be eaten, not composted. There’s a hierarchy of best to worst practices in terms of what to do with food waste. First, you avoid it. Then, if you do have extra food, you feed it to people. Then, you feed it to animals, and then you get into composting. And landfilling is at the bottom of that list. So yes, composting is a solution, but it’s part of a more complex web. Food rescue organizations are on the ground and they know soup kitchens and shelters and other organizations that serve people in need who can accept edible food.”
3. Don’t Expect Perfection
Even zero-waste events end up contributing to landfills in small amounts, so don’t set impossible standards for your brand or attendees.
“I think over time we’ll start to see an evolution in packaging because that’s the biggest challenge we face right now as it relates to [sustainability],” Danberg-Ficarelli says. “There’s just too much diversity of materials out there. And as people become better educated in their businesses and in their homes and, hopefully, by those package manufacturers, we’ll get closer to the point where people won’t need as much guidance. But I don’t think we’re ever going to get to a point where every single person is going to be perfect at recycling. I’m not perfect.”