(And with no prior event planning experience whatsoever!)
On a sweltering August Saturday, my partner in crime, Catherine and I, did the impossible. We hosted breakfast for 100+ people without sending a single little thing to the landfill!!
(Except for two tiny plastic wrappers, which I will tell you about in a minute).
What was the event?
The event was a Toastmasters Leadership Institute training that ran from 8:30 AM until 12:30 PM. The attendees took part in several education sessions which had 10 minute breaks in between.
During those 10 minute breaks, hoards of starving and coffee-deprived attendees would visit us at the refreshments table where Catherine and I provided a bountiful breakfast spread.
Where did the food come from?
We found everything we needed (package-free) at local Austin grocery stores and restaurants. Since we didn’t have a food budget, we asked for donations.
(If we had a food budget, getting things package-free would have been even easier.)
HEB, Randalls, and Wheatsville Co-op donated gift cards that enabled us to purchase the food and supplies we needed.
Panera Bread donated the bagels, pastries, and breads that they didn’t sell the night before. Einstein Bagels donated bagels they didn’t sell the day before. All were still extremely delicious and fresh. 🙂
Thank you all so much! We could not have done it without you!
What did we serve and how did we get it without packaging?
Eggs (These are available carton-free at Wheatsville at 25 cents per egg. We brought our own containers to put the eggs in. Catherine boiled and peeled the eggs the night before and brought them to the breakfast in a glass container. She composted the egg shells.)
Coffee (Purchased in the HEB bulk section. Catherine brought her own cloth bag to purchase the beans. She then handed them off to me and I made a cold brew concentrate to bring to the event. We wanted to get ready made coffee donated by a coffee shop, but they usually provide coffee in disposable traveler cases, which is why we opted to start with beans. The used beans are now composting.)
Tea (We purchased loose-leaf tea from Wheatsville’s bulk section. We brought our own containers for the tea. All spent tea leaves were composted at the event.)
Sugar (Available package-free at Wheatsville and at HEB in the bulk section. We had nothing left over–everyone had a sweet tooth!)
Bagels (We brought our own containers to Panera and Einstein Bagels and asked them to put the bagels directly in the containers without using any plastic packaging. The clerks were happy to help us with that!)
Donuts (Available at Randalls. Catherine brought her own container.)
Bananas (Available at any grocery store, package-free. We got ours at HEB.)
Grapes (Brought our own cloth bags to the Wheatsville rather than taking the plastic ones they offer. Tip-cut the stems up to make it easier for people to grab a few grapes.)
Milk (Richardson Farms does a bottle exchange program at the Austin farmer’s markets if you ask them.)
Jam, jelly, and peanut butter (Catherine purchased these at HEB in glass jars. The peanut butter jar had a plastic seal around the lid, which created one piece of landfill trash.)
Cream cheese (We thought Wheatsville would be able to fill our own containers with cream cheese, but it turns out they purchase cream cheese from a supplier who pre-packages it in plastic. The cream cheese wrapper was the other piece of plastic trash that we produced during the event. We are on the lookout for package-free cream cheese, so if you have any suggestions, let us know!)
How did we serve the food and drinks without using single-use cups, plates, and cutlery?
Originally, we had intended to ask attendees to bring their own coffee mugs, plates, and utensils. However, our leadership team was worried that this might not work well, since people aren’t used to bringing their own items. So we took a different approach.
I obtained 32 mugs from a local thrift store for about 25 cents per mug. I thoroughly cleaned and sanitized everything. Catherine rounded up every mug she had at home. We asked (*begged*) friends to let us borrow the rest. We had amazing support and we ended up with more than enough mugs for the event. (About 80 mugs in total and not every attendee had coffee.)
(If you want to borrow some of the mugs for your own zero waste event, visit my new Dish Lending Library.)
In addition, several people brought their own mugs, which was awesome!
Catherine brought utensils from her office, which covered all of our utensil needs.
For the plates, we used banana leaves and paper napkins. Everything that we served was a finger food, so easily handled without a plate if anyone found the banana leaves intimidating.
We had a lot of leftovers, so we asked attendees to take the extra bagels home with them. Of course, we packaged everything in banana leaves. 🙂
What about water and single use plastic water bottles?
Since we don’t believe that recycling is the answer to our trash problems, we avoided recyclable plastics like single use plastic bottled water. Instead, we provided the above mugs and a pitcher of filtered water. Several attendees even brought their own re-usable water bottles.
The only recyclables we produced were three glass jars from the peanut butter and jellies. I will likely re-use them for canning or storing bulk items.
What did we do with the food scraps?
We set up a compost collection bin next to the coffee cup collection bin.
While, not everyone threw their banana peels, banana leaves, and napkins in there, I do think we got the majority. The bin was full at the end of the event and my composting worms are happily chomping through everything and turning it into fertilizer for my garden.
How did we persuade people to throw stuff in the compost collection bin?
At the beginning of the event, the event chair allowed us 10 minutes to explain to everyone what we were doing and what they should expect. (We might have gone over 10 minutes… Sorry!!!)
This piece was extremely important, as anytime I’ve participated in events where we have a compost collection bin without this education session, the compliance is extremely low.
However, in this case, people were pretty excited about the event being zero waste and they wanted to participate!
We further explained the concept to anyone who stopped by the refreshments table. Because we can’t stop talking trash….. 🙂
What did people think of the event?
I can’t speak for everyone, but it seems that the zero waste part of the event was a big hit! People posted about it on social media and had a ton of fun with the banana leaves.
What impact did we have?
By making this a zero waste event, we prevented 100+ disposable plastic cups and 100+ disposable plastic plates from going to the landfill or to the ocean.
We prevented 100+ people’s worth of food scraps from going to the landfill, where they would produce methane (a green house gas that heats up our planet).
We supported Austin in its goal to be a zero waste city by 2040.
Best of all, in a few months, I will have a few pounds of fertilizer from the composted food scraps and banana leaves. My wormies say thank you!
I want to host a zero waste event too! Can you help me get started?
Yes!!!!!! We are so thrilled you want to make the world a better place for future generations. Catherine and I are available to help you with your event, big or small, no matter where you live. Contact either one of us! Catherine’s contact information is here, and mine is here.
Do you have questions that this post didn’t cover? Feel free to ask in the comments section below!
Happy Zero Wasting!