War stories from the do-or-die battlefield of organics recycling at special events – By CJ May
Managing organics recycling at special events is challenging. The collection of food waste at special events is so challenging you might just want to hit the snooze button that day and stay in bed. Here’s some lessons learned from the days I didn’t hit the snooze button:
1. Plan excessively with the event and catering managers
Your job on the day of the event will be much easier if you eliminate key offenders such as ketchup packets during the planning of the menu. Inform the planners of an important truth: the best way to ensure trouble-free collection of food waste is to have no trash or recyclables in the hands of the diners. If the plates, cups, utensils, and napkins are all compostable then diners can place everything in one bin as they finish. In this scenario, there are no recyclables (cans, bottles, aluminum foils/trays) and no trash (packets, non-compostable cups).
“The best way to ensure trouble-free collection of organics waste is to have no trash or recyclables in the hands of the diners.”
2. Prepare for the unexpected
Have back up plans, and staff eyeballing the collection bins who are prepared to remove any offending items. My student worker and I started finding non-compostable cups in the collection bins intended for compostables. The savvy student identified the culprit as an outside soda supplier who had not been involved in the planning process. The savvy student retrieved all the offending cups out of the bin while the Yale Dining Service manager provided compostable cups they had in stock. Event saved. At similar events, we have found glass bottles and other items brought into the venue by attendees which caused similar issues.
3. If you must have trash and recycling….
If your menu cannot be tweaked so that diners hold only compostables then you are in for a tougher battle. Label your collection bins with words, images of appropriate items and even actual samples of the appropriate items. Also, have staff stand by the bins, make announcements during the meal regarding protocol, and place signage along the food line.
The staff at the bins must be of a courageous nature. They must be equipped with gloves and tongs and willing to dig out any offending item tossed in the moment they have their backs turned.
4. Give permission, give tools
A great way to make your event zero waste in terms of organics recycling is to announce to diners that they are free to take home any of the remaining food and to provide them with to-go containers. This ensures that restrictive but vital food safety laws preventing the reuse/recovery of served food do not force any catered leftovers into the trash or compost bins. You are giving diners permission to take the food (a social imperative as many would otherwise feel awkward in packing up catered food) and the tools with which to bring it home.
CJ May served as Yale University’s recycling coordinator for more than 20 years. He currently works as recycling coordinator for the City of Waterbury where he combines his work as an environmental magician and sustainability presenter to enchant 32,000 households with the magic of recycling. www.cyrilthesorcerer.com www.betterworldmagic.com email@example.com
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