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No recycling? Then no party. Five cities with mandatory recycling at public events

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As the weather warms, community calendars start filling up with outdoor concerts, county fairs and farmers’ markets. The organizers behind these events have a choice—will this be another occasion that ends with overflowing trash cans, or will they flex their advanced planning muscles and toast to the environment as well?

Public events are a highly visible demonstration of your commitment to a healthy, sustainable and livable community. It’s your moment to walk your talk and lead by example, and to show that “this is how we do things in our town.” It’s at our festivals and events that Zero Waste can become as American as corn dogs and roller coasters.


What are Zero Waste Events?

You’ll first notice that Zero Waste events have recycling and composting stations instead of trash cans. But the real work happens long before the event. The event planners and vendors have worked together to reduce waste through strategies like choosing compostable or recyclable packaging, offering refillable water bottle stations instead of bottled water, and planning how to collect and donate any unused food.

As a result, each event is a microcosm of a larger Zero Waste community where you can decide what products and packaging come in, and as a result, you determine how much waste comes out. Nowhere else do you have the opportunity to reach such a large and diverse audience and to give them hands-on experience with a Zero Waste system.

Once people get used to seeing compostable plates and recycling bins at their county fair, they start looking around for recycling and compost bins at the basketball game, the mall, and their kid’s school. And they begin to understand the importance of sorting materials correctly, and how a Zero Waste system works as a whole.

That brings you to a larger Zero Waste goal: to give everyone the opportunity to experience a Zero Waste future by having easy access to recycling and composting, whether it’s at home, at work, at school or  on-the-go.

The good news for event organizers is that Zero Waste event planning is becoming more accessible all the time. It’s so doable that communities across the globe are deciding to make recycling and composting a mandatory part of events. Here are five U.S. cities that have declared recycling at events non-negotiable, and notes about how they’re achieving Zero Waste bragging rights.


Five cities that require events to recycle


Atlanta, GAwaste_audit520

Permits for outdoor special events in Atlanta don’t come without a recycling plan. That plan needs to include where the materials will be taken for recycling and a description of the recycling signage.

Every trashcan must have a recycling bin paired with it to collect glass containers, aluminum containers and #1 and #2 plastic containers, at a minimum. The city has recycling bins available for use with a refundable deposit, or event organizers can find their own.


ZWZ_sign_Bins-1Boulder, CO

Boulder is becoming a three-bin town where there’s no such thing as a single trashcan—everywhere there is trash, there must also be recycling and composting. That means recycling and composting is required not just at events, but now at every home, business and school.

While all city-permitted events must recycle and compost as of January 2016, some venues were well ahead of the game: The Boulder County Farmers’ Market has been going for Zero Waste for more than a decade, and is the first on-going Zero Waste event in the nation. The Market has long required their vendors to use only compostable, recyclable or reusable ware, and Zero Waste stations for recycling and composting replace all the public space trash cans in the market area.


Minneapolis, MN8468e6_4d2b8dda4c3d45f1bacc5270cbb068b4

Runners will always have a place to recycle their water bottles, thanks to an ordinance in this city requiring races, block events, and parties to recycle if more than 2,500 attendees are expected.  Any parade or race on city streets also needs recycling collection alongside trash.

The organizer must submit a recycling plan, but Minneapolis doesn’t stop there. Following the event, the organizer must submit receipts, photographs, or other written evidence to verify that all recyclable materials were delivered to a processing facility.

The Parks & Recreation board also adopted a policy requiring all events held on city park properties to recycle, regardless of the event’s size. Organizers can use the containers provided or come up with their own plans for recycling.


zw-059San Francisco, CA

In San Fran, recycling and composting are mandatory, and that includes at events. Events must maintain the color-coded system for waste in place in the city—green for food waste, blue for recycling and black for trash.

The city preps event organizers for success by giving them a checklist that walks them through the waste plan before, during and after the event, offering a training program at the start of event season, and giving the names of service providers to collect materials.


Seattle, WAbiteofseattle.bmp_

Seattle takes Zero Waste events up a notch by keeping tabs on what’s being distributed at the events. All food vendors in Seattle, including event food vendors, are required to use compostable packaging and serve drinks in recyclable containers. Foam cups and containers (“Styrofoam”) are not allowed. Recycling and composting stations must be set up to collect everything, which means it’s a lonely party for any remaining trash cans.

The city provides food vendors with lists of collection bin and service providers, and a list of approved compostable packaging products.


How to make your next event Zero Waste

Let’s make this summer’s event season the catalyst that gets your community more engaged in sustainability. Use our Zero Waste Event Toolkit to find tips and tools to make your next party a celebration of the environment, whether it’s a backyard party or a city-wide festival.

All it takes is a little planning to make a big difference.



Does your city also require events to recycle? Let us know about the policies or programs you have in place and how well they are working.



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