Zero Waste Events

Staff zero waste volunteers show total waste from annual staff BBQ: two mini garbage bins for over 3,500 people!

As a faculty, staff or student at UBC it is likely that at some point you will be involved in organizing an event. Whether it is an international conference, an internal workshop, a recurring meeting, or a social, an event is a great opportunity to encourage zero waste practices, and to make a difference.

Reducing Waste Before Your Event

Identify possible sources of event waste such as packaging, disposable items used for catering, paper handouts and work with other event organizers, vendors, caterers and exhibitors to reduce or eliminate these sources

Learn what goes where through UBC’s Sort It Out recycling program.

Learn about preferred materials: Reduce event materials and packaging to the best of your ability. Check out this guide for food packaging and containers worth choosing. 

Buy in bulk or ask your caterer to provide bulk items such as milk, sugar, honey, juice, salt, pepper, ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, jam, cream cheese and butter, rather than individually packaged items.

Bring Your Own Mug/Cup/Plate: Ask event-goers to bring their own mug/cup, plate/container and cutlery. Add this request to all event communications.

Tap water: avoid bottled water whenever possible. Serve jugs of tap water or for large events, contact the Metro Vancouver Tap Water Team to request the Metro Van Water Wagon. Ask event attendees to bring their own bottle. 

Juice and pop: If providing juice and soda, aim for drinks in returnable or recyclable bottles or cans; avoid juice boxes with plastic straws – the straws and straw wrappers are not recyclable.

Cutlery: order reusable cutlery whenever possible. If this is not feasible, the best practice for events at UBC is to use compostable wood or bamboo cutlery, which can be put in green Food Scraps bins. Also acceptable is to buy plastic cutlery with a recycling symbol numbered 1 - 7, which can be recycled in grey Recyclable Container bins. After years of testing and monitoring, biodegradable or compostable plastic cutlery does not properly break down in UBC’s organics program and we ask event planners to avoid purchasing them.

Ordering Bins

Event bin standards: UBC is phasing out all stand-alone garbage cans and installing multi-bin recycling stations across campus. To reflect this standard, event organizers should budget for, order, and group a set of 4 bins together in the following arrangement from left to right: Food Scraps, Recyclable Containers, Paper and Garbage.  

Eliminate garbage bins if possible: If you expect your event will only generate food scraps and/or recyclable materials, please do not order garbage bins.  For events that will generate no recyclable paper/cardboard or food scraps, these bins may not be necessary.

Number of bins: UBC recommends ordering one multi-bin recycling station per 400 – 500 event attendees. However, the number of stations will vary depending on the event type and length. Ideally events will have one volunteer staffed at each set of bins to help attendees properly sort. See “Recruit Volunteers” for more information.

Requesting bins: Recycling, food scraps and garbage bins should be requested from UBC Building Operations using the PeopleSoft Financial Management System (FMS). The request must be made in two parts: One request for recycling and food scraps bins; a separate request for garbage bins. There is normally a cost for delivery and pickup that will be billed directly to the FMS PG/speedchart. If organizers do not have FMS access or run into issues, for indoor events they may contact the Facilities Manager for the building hosting the event. Otherwise, the Service Centre can be contacted at 604 822 2173. When booking an outdoor event through Campus and Community Planning, contact the Events and Film Liaison to assist with booking of recycling bins.

Contact zerowaste.events@ubc.ca for any other inquiries such as event waste reduction, bin ordering and placement and volunteer recruitment strategies.

Obtaining Signage

Download signage: Standard recycling bin signage is available for download here. Organizers may also augment this with additional signage. What goes where information is available here.

 For events with specific kinds of waste, the best option is to make custom signage, which has the names of the items on them or even photos of the items. This makes sorting very simple!

Recruiting Volunteers

One volunteer per recycling station: volunteers standing next to 4 bin recycling stations at events are crucial to achieve zero waste. Volunteers will help instruct event attendees on what item goes into which bin. Without volunteers, your event bins will be contaminated and much of the event waste will end up in the landfill. Contact zerowaste.events@ubc.ca for advice and support on volunteer recruitment and training. We can help you with a volunteer strategy, send a training package and offer tips for success.

During Your Event

Place 4 bins together as a recycling station: Place the bins together to form recycling stations and in the following order from left to right to encourage and streamline sorting: Food Scraps, Recyclable Containers, Paper and Garbage. Please ensure that there are no stand-alone garbage cans.

Post signage: Clear, simple signage is essential. All bins are signed with stickers but these are not visible when lids are open, so additional signage is recommended. UBC standard signage (obtained via download here) may be placed on the front of bins. Alternatively you may create custom signs that show the specific waste items for your event on each bin to make it very obvious what goes where, or even attach examples of the actual items. 

Coordinating Volunteers

Ensure volunteers are staffed at each zero waste station and do an orientation to remind volunteers what goes where before their shift starts. These zero waste ambassadors will help event attendees sort their waste properly. Contact zerowaste.events@ubc.ca for advice and support on volunteer recruitment and training.

After Your Event

Emailing Your Feedback

Please tell us what worked at your event and what could be improved – zero waste events are a key priority in UBC’s Zero Waste Action Plan and we want to continuously improve. Please send your feedback and ideas to zerowaste.events@ubc.ca