Planning a zero-waste event

Malibu Chili Cook Off will be hosting its 40th annual event this Sept 2-5 and we were SO thrilled to learn that they work with event sustainability producers Kilowattone. We asked the team at Kilowattone about what goes into planning a large-scale zero waste event.

What is the first thing you look at when starting to plan a zero-waste event?

When planning a zero-waste event, we first understand the various waste items the event will produce and communicate with the contracted hauler to ask about the materials they accept and their requirements. The hauler can answer questions like, do you accept glass and can recyclables be in bags?

Second, and almost in tandem with that, is choosing food and beverage items that meet the hauler’s requirements. What you get out of the event in waste has everything to do with what you put into it. 

You have many different vendors participating, from food, to rides to shopping experiences – tell us about the experience in working with vendors on their sustainable practices? Is it received well, or do you sometimes receive pushback? How do you mitigate this?

For the most part, when working with vendors on their sustainable practices, they are receptive to suggestions and various approaches. However, there are times when there is hesitation if it impacts their typical operation. We try to mitigate this hesitancy by listening to their concerns and finding a middle ground with the vendor to meet their goals more sustainably. 

What does the waste plan actually look like? From different buckets for trash collection, to the actual removal and follow through of proper diversion/allocation of these different items?

As mentioned before, a good waste plan starts with intentional procurement.  Once we get to the physical on-site operation, we implement several stages to assure that our final sorted waste isn’t contaminated.

  • Most waste stations are three-stream, so attendees always have the option to dispose of correctly (organics, recycling, and landfill). We use Cerobins so the bins can be color specific to each waste stream, hold clear signage, and, most importantly, reusable so the stations don’t turn into waste.
  • The Malibu Chili Cook-Off hires a substantial team to sort every bag of waste back-of-house to correct anything that is disposed of incorrectly.

How do your community/participants respond to the set up? Do they generally adhere to the waste plan with proper usage and disposal? Do you provide any incentives for them in sustainable participation? 

The Malibu community and the participants involved respond positively to the waste strategy (our organics carts have received several shoutouts on social media). Instead of incentives for participating in sustainability efforts, we aim to make sorting as effortless as possible. Clear signage, clean bins and staff attention to proper disposal all help set the expectation and attitude of the event, participants and vendors. Inevitably though, we anticipate receiving a fraction of someone’s attention at a waste bin, so the back-of-house sort is a necessary step for a proper zero-waste operation.

What are your top 3 tips when planning a sustainable/zero-waste event?

Top 3 Tips for a Zero-Waste Event:

  1. Developing an intentional procurement plan that matches recyclable and organic materials a waste hauler can accept.
  2. Design waste stations with simple, clear signage. Ensure every recycling bin has a landfill buddy to keep items in the correct receptacle.
  3. Have staff and janitorial teams willing to learn proper disposal, pick up litter and even do a bit of top sorting. Suppose attendees and vendors see someone cares enough to go out of their way to pull a can from the landfill bin and recycle it. In that case, it’s incredible how quickly support for the movement spreads.

What have been your waste achievements for this event since working with Malibu Chili CookOff?

0ur goal with the Malibu Chili Cook-Off is to reach more than 90% landfill diversion (accepted as zero-waste best practice) and to reduce single-use plastic in food and beverage items. We’ve progressed to eliminate single-use plastic in design elements which has been a considerable waste achievement for this event. Moving forward, we’re looking to replace those hard-to-substitute plastic items and reduce overall waste tonnage.


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