Community Event Scores 100% Zero Waste


Charmaine Coimbra


Throw it out.

Get rid of it.

Toss it.

A big truck empties the waste can and all that garbage, useless junk, and trash goes away and disappears.  But not really.  Landfills produce about one-third of all methane emission in the United States. “Methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gases: It’s 20 to 25 times more powerful in trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide,” explains a state and city resource site, Governing.

I don’t even want to imagine the amount of waste I have contributed to regional landfills. So when I agreed to coordinate a nonprofit event this year, my secondary goal was to create as little waste as possible.  Plastic, regardless of its recyclability was the first restriction I factored.  This included laminated signs that could not be reused year after year, plastic water bottles, and sodas in plastic containers, plastic cups, and plastic eating utensils.

“We’ll use biocompostables (food containers and ware made from plants),” I promised. But that was not so easily accomplished.  My zero-waste event captain discovered that there was no place we could send this kind of product for the proper composting.

Products made from, corn, potato, tapioca, cellulose, and soy protein require a specialized commercial composting facility. Our county lacked such a facility. 

Our next thought was to use all paper bowls and cups and rent metal spoons (the event was a soup tasting contest).  I called our local recycler and learned, “If the paper has had contact with food, it can’t be recycled because of the bacteria.”

Renting bowls, spoons, etc., is expensive, and a nuisance. There were so many reasons to not go that route. In that little tickler-file found in the back of my brain I recalled a man I met at an ocean science workshop at our local university. When we discussed wastes in the oceans he mentioned that no Styrofoam or balloons were allowed at a festival he organizes. Fearing that I’d not meet my goal of no plastics I tried to remember his name.  But to no avail.  A sick feeling swept through my belly. 

Then serendipity stepped in.  A week prior I won a raffle for free tickets and t-shirts to a local festival.  I tucked the envelope into a nook on my desk and forgot about it.  While wrestling with my no-plastic at my event dilemma, I pulled the envelope down, opened it to look at the contents, and voila! Inside was the business card of the man I had met at the ocean science workshop a year back.

His business card didn’t even get warm in my hand before I called him.

I struck the no-waste mother lode.  “This year’s festival will be a zero waste event.  I love your organization, so  I’ll round up thezero-waste  team, bring them to your event, set up the trash stations, and let’s see what we can do.”   Composting those biocompostables?  He revealed  that the next county offers such a composting facility.

Ten minutes later I was on a biocompostable product website ordering the perfect product for my event. 

But it wasn’t just biocompostables.  We lined our display tables  in butcher paper adhered with paper tape; we borrowed tablecloths, wreathes, and decor from members; decorated with live plants, fruits and vegetables; every banner that wasn’t constantly used  by the nonprofit organiziation we printed  on paper with soy inks; we repurposed packing styrofoam to strengthen posters that we’ll use again; and all of our food waste went into strategically placed worm composting bins.

This became a community effort that involved local branches of Eco-Rotary, Guerrilla Gardening Club, a local nursery, a local golf course and the local festival.

About 160 persons attended our fundraising soup competition.  At day’s end, Hunter Kilpatrick, who became my zero waste mother lode, announced, “We have a first in San Luis Obispo County for a public event.  This public event is the first ever to achieve a 100% zero waste status.”

We accumulated about 60 pounds of waste.  Over fifty pounds was compostable, a half pound was liquid, eight pounds were recyclable—giving us 100% zero waste.





Editor’s Note: If you have created a zero waste public event, please let us tell your story.

Categories: Zero Waste

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2 replies

  1. An amazing feat to be especially proud of!

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