Delaney Buskard, Office for Sustainability Student Employee

Special events are an important part of the UVA experience. From football games to Lighting of the Lawn to Puppies & Pumpkins, there are always special events happening across Grounds. To help reduce the waste sent to the landfill, UVA has encouraged special events to go zero waste or include compost collection when possible.

A Zero Waste Event (ZWE) is an event in which 90% of the produced waste can be diverted from the landfill. This means that the vast majority of waste is either composted or recycled. Out of 243 special events at UVA, an incredible 157 events either achieved zero waste or collected compost, demonstrating departments and student groups alike are making the switch to zero waste events. To make the switch easy, the Office for Sustainability (OFS) recently released an updated version of the Zero Waste Guide to walk event planners through the process.

"Ask me about zero waste!" tag on Instagram story, in front of event
Landfill (empty) and compost bin (full) comparison on an Instagram story

Zero Waste Events in Action

This past summer, OFS teamed up with the UVA Alumni Association to make their Reunions zero waste. Over 5,000 alumni returned to Charlottesville to reunite with friends and family. Between the two weekends, over two dozen events around Grounds were set up with zero waste stations. As an OFS student employee, I was able to enjoy both the waste reduction efforts and the festivities associated with such a large event. As a zero waste monitor, I saw how many people were both receptive and interested in learning about UVA’s efforts. I was also pleasantly surprised at how many alumni appreciated my presence to help them learn about zero waste best practices. At the end of the weekend, thousands of pounds of compost were brought to Black Bear Composting, the main entity that receives UVA’s composting, and there was very little contamination, according to Eric from Black Bear. Contamination is non-organic or non-compostable materials. It is absolutely vital that glass and metal be kept out of composting since they can easily break into smaller pieces that get widely distributed throughout the compost. These contaminants greatly reduce both the quality and safety of the compost that is delivered to Black Bear’s customers, one of them being UVA. To read more about the success of our zero waste efforts at Reunions, check out this article from UVA Today. 

Twice a year, UVA also hosts a Green Game. OFS picks one football and one basketball game per year to focus all of its efforts on zero waste. Students and community members alike work together in matching t-shirts to guide game attendees to dispose of their waste correctly. In the fall of 2018, during our Green Game Football, volunteers were able to divert about 63.4% of waste from landfills. These recycling efforts are part of a larger GameDay Recycling Challenge, in which universities across the United States compete to divert as much waste as possible. UVA competes against other Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) schools, similarly to our sports teams. Our 2018 Green Game diversion rate landed us 3rd amongst all ACC schools, and 10th in the nation!

UVA Green Game # hoos recycle logo with bright green words on a uva blue background
UVA Green Game logo

Hosting Zero Waste Events at UVA

Having a ZWE is a large endeavor but can be so important in the reduction of landfill additions. Reusing organic waste as compost is extremely beneficial to the environment. UVA’s large community produces a lot of waste at each event, especially with those that have food. Even with that said, there are just a few easy steps to hold a ZWE for almost any occasion. As outlined in our ZWE Guide, holding a successful ZWE includes the following:

  1. Obtain compostable wares, including plates, plastic utensils, napkins, and cups
  2. Obtain the appropriate bins to collect waste (likely need landfill, recycling, and compost)
  3. Communicate best practices by alerting attendees of the zero waste efforts
  4. Avoid contamination with adequate signage or even zero waste station monitors

With a myriad of helpful resources at UVA and in OFS, hosting a successful ZWE can be made simple! For further questions or assistance, contact the OFS directly or peruse the website for more information.