The Beginner's Guide to Hosting a Zero Waste Event

The Office for Sustainability assisted UVA's Morven Kitchen Garden to make their annual "Gazpacho in the Garden" event a Zero Waste affair.

zero waste example
Dana Schroeder of the Office for Sustainability shows an attendee where to deposit compostable items.

With all the excitement and logistics involved in planning an event, trash may be the last thing on your

mind. However, making your event zero waste can be simple and low-stress.  Whether you are planning a small or large event, this guide will outline how to coordinate a successful Zero Waste event from start to finish. 

What is a Zero Waste event? It means that at least 90% of waste generated will go to a compost facility or recycling facility. There are four key components: 

  1. Compostable or reusable wares  

  1. Appropriate bins  

  1. Communication  

  1. Contamination prevention 

Let’s walk through each of these together. 


1) Procure your reusable and/or compostable plates, silverware, napkins, etc.  

Ask your caterer if they can provide reusable wares. If not, choose compostable items that are BPI certified. Here are a few ways to get compostable items for a UVA event: 

  • Student groups hosting an event with fewer than 150 attendees can request compostable wares through our handy online Request Form.  

  • Choose a Zero Waste caterer on the America to Go site via UVA Marketplace (log in required). These caterers will be able to provide compostable products (find the full list by viewing the “Vendors” tab on America to Go site and selecting the “Zero Waste” feature). 

  • Employees can order bulk compostable plates, bowls, cups and utensils from office supply portals like the Supply Room or Office Max via UVA Marketplace. 

Bins are located together and labeled to encourage attendees to place items accordingly.

2) Ensure the appropriate waste bins will be available at the venue.  

Request compost bins from UVA Recycling by filling out the online Request Form. Once the bins are delivered, it is best to put the compost bins with recycling and landfill bins (this is called co-locating). 

Now that you’ve figured out the logistics of your Zero Waste event ...


3) It’s time to spread the word.  

Here are some ways to communicate with attendees: 

  • Make a note in any promotional materials (Facebook, Instagram, registration emails) that composting will be available at the event.  

  • Make an announcement at the beginning of the event when all attendees are together. You could say something like: “We are trying to minimize our waste at this event. Please make sure to put all your utensils, plates, cups, and food waste in the compost bins.” 

  • Above each bin, place a sign with taped cut-outs of acceptable waste items for each respective bin. This will give attendees a visual hint for where each item should go. Email the Office for Sustainability to request Compost, Recycle, and/or Landfill signs.  

Now it’s time for your event!  

No cans, no plastics, no glass -- all's good in the compost bin!

4) Avoiding contamination is the most important part!  

There must be no contamination (non-compostable items) in the compost bins since this material will be used on local farms. Here are some tips: 

  • Have a designated Zero Waste volunteer who can keep an eye on the compost bins throughout your event. Make sure they know which items are compostable and that they have proper gear (such as gloves or a trash grabber/picker) in case they need to remove items from the bin. For larger events, we encourage groups to have multiple Zero Waste volunteers. 

  • Co-locate bins. You should have a recycling bin and landfill bin right next to every compost bin to help make sure that non-compostable items end up in the right bin.  

  • Educate your attendees through announcements and signage. Make sure they know what items should be going into which bins. 

Here are some additional ideas to inspire you to host a successful Zero Waste event at UVA:  

  • If the event is outdoors, request a Refill Station (H2O 2 Go) from Facilities Management. Requests can be emailed to [email protected].  

  • Purchase compostable to-go containers or encourage attendees to bring their own containers to take home extra food. This minimizes waste, eliminates cleaning and puts a smile on attendees’ faces! 

  • Organize a meeting with an Office for Sustainability staff member. We’d be happy to chat with you about best practices for your events, especially with recurring or large-scale events. Inquiries can be sent to [email protected].  


Best of luck planning your Zero Waste event! Be sure to bookmark the Zero Waste Event Request Form to help coordinate the logistics, and don’t hesitate to contact us at the Office for Sustainability if you have questions or need support.  

My name is Shannon Sahs and I am a Zero Waste Outreach & Engagement Coordinator in UVA’s Office for Sustainability. I’m here to help with your zero waste questions! Please don’t hesitate to contact me at [email protected].  

Thank you for being a champion for waste reduction across Grounds!