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Green Meetings & Events

There are a lot of different ways to think about the environmental footprint of an event or meeting, including energy use, water use, and greenhouse gas emissions associated with travel. This page will focus on how to reduce solid waste associated with events and meetings. The specific aspects covered are: event information and materials, food and beverage service, and on-site waste management.

Event Information and Materials

For your event or meeting, can it be reasonably expected that attendees can and will access critical event information like a schedule or map using technology? Part of answering this question is knowing the expected audience and their access to and comfort with technology.

  • Where access and comfort are anticipated and the amount of information that needs to be distributed is relatively low, planners may be able to simply send electronic files out in advance of the event.
    • Attendees can make their own decisions about whether to print things out or look at them online.
  • Another approach is to post critical event information in obvious/communal spaces during the event. This could be done with a large banner or poster or by using electronic screens.

  • For complex events like example multi-track conferences or large trade shows, where audience access and comfort with technology is anticipated, it may be best to look into developing an event app in order to organize and streamline access to event information. 
    • ​There are a number of tech companies that provide custom event apps. 
    • It is still generally a good idea to have some print material on hand. 
    • With enough lead time, you can ask attendees if they want a printed program or whether they plan to use the app.

Sometimes providing hard copies of meeting or event information is unavoidable. When this is the case, develop print quote specifications including use of paper with at least some post-consumer recycled content. Make sure items are printed double-sided as much as possible. If producing bound material like booklets, choose saddle stapling, paper clips or folders made from paper over plastic folders and spiral or comb binding, which prevent recycling.

If event posters or banners are being produced, it's best to use materials that can either be reused or recycled. Is there a way to design a banner that can be used for future iterations of the event, perhaps with minor modifications? If not, can you have the banner printed on textile (either cotton or woven polyester or a blend), which can be recycled at a Kane County Recycling Center? Unwoven plastic like vinyl is generally not recyclable and will end up in a landfill. With posters, paper or cardstock is the most recyclable material. Corrugated polypropylene posters or signs can be recycled at occasional County campaign sign recycling events, which are scheduled to after general elections. Foam core signs are not recyclable and will have to be put into trash.

If you are planning to produce promotional items as gifts for attendees, it's best to make sure these are produced with relatively low amounts of resources and that they are likely to be valued and used by attendees. A notebook made from recycled paper or other renewable material can be a nice promo item, as can pens or pencils made with recycled material. Reusable tote bags are fairly common, but not all bags are created equal. Many event promo tote bags are too small or flimsy to be reused many times. Woven plastic materials (polyester and woven polypropylene or PET) are often the best in terms of requiring less resources to make while still being durable. Non-woven plastic bags are cheap but flimsy. Canvas bags are durable but use a huge amount of resources to make. With enough lead time, planners can poll within the target audience to see what types of promo items they actually keep and use.

For durable items like plastic nametag holders and lanyards, consider collecting these items for reuse at a future event. Pin-on plastic nametags use fewer resources than lanyards. ​Custom lanyards have better reusability when the branding is not specific to a occasion or year. Try to find lanyards made from recycled material. 

Food and Beverage Service

The food and beverage service option that always generates the least waste is serving on reusable/washable service wear. Can the meeting or event be held at a venue that provides and washes plates, cups and silverware? If not, would attendees be receptive to bringing some of their own service items with them? This option is generally only realistic for short events where only one meal will be eaten or where communal water or coffee will be available (e.g., encourage or even incentivize attendees to bring refillable bottles or mugs).

If reusable service items aren't an option, it's best to have beverages like pop, water and beer served in their original containers instead of in a separate cup. Whether made from plastic, glass, aluminum or paper carton material, drink containers are recyclable while single use cups, especially plastic ones, are often not. Serving drinks in their original packaging also alleviates the need for straws. If disposable cups and straws are unavoidable, favor paper products over plastic. Empty paper cups for hot and cold beverages are recyclable. Provide guidance to attendees to help them recycle cups properly.

If reusable plates and silverware aren't options, keeping things as simple as possible is best. Is it possible to serve finger foods so that plastic utensils aren't necessary? Can food be served on simple disposable plates instead of in plastic containers? In general, paper service wear that uses some amount of recycled material is best among disposables. Compostable service wear, including utensils, would be the next most favorable, but only if compost service is provided at the event (see next section). Rigid single use plastic service wear items are generally not recyclable, and expanded foam (Styrofoam) items should be the absolute last choice.

In cases where all food and beverage service wear is being supplied by one or more vendors, ask about the type of packaging and service wear used during the vendor selection process. Where food vendors are paying to participate in an event, planners might consider offering a reduced rate to those willing to use less wasteful food service items. 

On-site Waste Management

Can the event be hosted at a venue that already has comprehensive composting service? This will be the easiest way to deal with food waste and potentially compostable service wear in an environmentally friendly way, since the venue will already have the right containers and processes in place. If not, pl​an​ners may wish to look for a hauler that will provide composting service for the event. The Illinois Food Scrap and Composting Coalition has a list of comm​ercial compost haulers on their website. Many are based in Chicago and don't provide routine service in Kane County, but may be willing to provide service for large events. When collecting quotes from compost haulers, it's important to ask about what types of compostable service wear, if any, are accepted, and for clear guidance on acceptable and unwanted food scraps. It will be very important to provide signs and guidance about what items event attendees and venue staff should put into compost containers.

When selecting an event venue, evaluate whether potential venues have suitable and sufficient recycling bins already in place. If so, ask the venue manager if temporary signs or QR codes can be posted on the bins to show which items specific to the event waste stream should be recycled. In cases where the event planner/host is responsible for procuring trash and recycling service, it will be important to make sure that trash and recycling containers are clearly labeled and convenient. It's great if they can be different colors from each other for quick differentiation. Planners should collect quotes from licensed waste haulers for the infrastructure and hauling needed to manage trash and recycling streams from the event. During the selection process, talk to the company representatives about the anticipated waste stream from the event, any contaminants they would be concerned about, and best practices to avoid contamination problems.

Event planners who can anticipate the waste stream from their events can also consider making custom signs or QR codes or putting guidance in the event program or app telling people what to put in recycling and what to put in trash. Another potential option is to have volunteers monitor trash, recycling and food waste disposal at meal times or throughout the event, and to train them to gently encourage proper use of the containers. At events with an MC, ask that person to specifically point out the importance of recycling at the event and direct attendees to any available guidance. Planners may be able to get creative about how they generate excitement about recycling at their events. One recent idea for an art festival in Kane County was to have student artists compete to design a colorful, eye-catching recycling containers.