When Julie Campbell, a shows and events specialist at Subaru of America, began thinking about the company’s 2019 National Business Conference, her goal was to make the entire event a sustainable one, with next to no trash headed to landfills – a milestone that had never before been achieved at the venue, the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. 

“Since Subaru began working with the National Park Foundation and we adopted our Zero-Landfill initiative, we’ve been trying to find ways we could implement this initiative at the conference,” Campbell says.  

A sustainability task force, formed nine months before the event, worked to find waste streams for every scrap that came into the conference, from chewing gum to tape. In addition, the team placed recycling stations throughout the space, with signs specifying how to properly recycle and staff to answer questions about what belonged in which bin. 

Campbell also partnered with many companies and organizations to divert as much waste as possible. Reusable items were donated to nine different charities, banners were upcycled into reusable bags and all food scraps were sorted for composting or animal consumption. 

“If we came upon a roadblock on an item, we researched and found companies that would recycle it,” she says. The result: Less than 1% of waste generated hit the trash bins. “We had a total of 33,000 pounds of recycled materials versus 107 pounds of waste,” Campbell says. 

Inspiring, right? Whether you’re planning a corporate event for hundreds of people or a baby shower for a dozen friends, take a cue from Campbell: Do what you can to keep waste to an absolute minimum. 

Here are four ways to work toward zero landfill at your next gathering: 


Ditch the Snail Mail

The first thing you should stuff in the recycling bin is the etiquette book advising you to mail paper invitations. Paper and cardboard materials comprised the largest component of municipal waste in 2017, according to Environmental Protection Agency stats. Why add to the pile when you can communicate easily and more efficiently with a digital invitation from Paperless Post®Appy Couple®1 or another sleek invitation site? 

If you want a pro’s blessing, take it from Lauren Grech, CEO of LLG Events in New York City, who agrees that using websites is far more eco-friendly than mailing invites and reply cards. And ditch the “I’m doing paper invites for grandma” excuse. It’s 2020 – your grandparents are probably better at email than you are. And if not, you can just print and mail single invites to your technophobe loved ones. 


Use Cloth Napkins 

Skip tablecloths, which often look dated. As for napkins, it’s best to rent for maximum sustainability. “We always advise clients to rent linens,” says Melanie Tindell, owner of Oak + Honey Event Planning Co. in Cleveland, Ohio. “After all, they’ve only been manufactured once, and they are being washed and reused multiple times, which is way better than buying new.” 

If your party’s too small for you to consider enlisting a rental service, invest in cloth napkins simple enough to reuse at dinners for years to come. You can get a nice set for less than $5 a napkin at home stores such as CB2. 

If you’re crafty, you could make your own cloth napkins following simple tutorials like this one: 



Say No to Disposable Cups, Plates and Utensils 

Yes, it’s a pain to even think about washing a party’s worth of plates, forks and glasses. But using what you own – even if none of it matches – is the most responsible choice. 

If you’re having more people than the number of plates or glasses in your cupboard, renting is more eco-friendly than buying disposable. Also, it couldn’t be easier, says Belinda Chang, a James Beard Award-winning sommelier who runs an experiential marketing company, planning parties for anywhere from three to 300 guests. 

“In any town where people have weddings, there’s at least one epic event rentals company,” Chang says. “Rental glasses come in convenient racks with everything polished and ready to go. And when the party is over, you don’t have to wash anything. Just put the rentals back into the racks and revel in your excellent hosting skills.” 

If you can’t rent glassware, there are recyclable single-use options – they cost a few more bucks than disposable ones, but you’re also buying good environmental karma. Just be sure to rinse off any food residue before you throw them in the recycling bin. 

close up image of roses
Photo: lingqui xie / Getty Images

Regift Flowers 

Repeat Roses®, which has locations across the U.S., sends donated centerpieces to nearby hospitals and homes for the elderly. “Their team comes into an event, recuts the flowers and puts them back into their original arrangement,” Grech says. Even better: After the recipient has enjoyed the repurposed bouquet, staff from Repeat Roses return to compost the blooms. Zero waste for the win! 

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