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Tips for Reducing Compost/Recycling Bin Contamination at Your Event


Start planning early, and include sustainability in every meeting pertaining to the event. Every stage of the event needs to be considered, and everyone needs to be on board - including but not limited to the event planner, the caterer, the guests, anyone performing at the event, the client hosting the event, and the venue's staff.

Provide verbiage for the event host to include in their event invitations, memos, or emails. For example, it can be as simple as "We're proud to host a zero-waste event! You'll see compost and recycling bins throughout the conference hall."

Have a list of EVERYTHING coming into your event that you have control over (obviously, you can't control everything guests bring in from the outside like gum wrappers, cigarette packaging, etc). The easiest waste to divert is the waste you don't make in the first place!

Ask the venue if they have a recycling/composting program already in place. Many venues will at least have a cardboard recycling dumpster or bin, even if they don't have recycling set up for any other materials.


Plastic film from event set up can be recycled as long as it's clean and not heavily stickered or labeled. Film used to secure stacks of chairs and display items can be put into large clear plastic recycling bags.

Event set-up usually generates a lot of cardboard. Make sure it all gets flattened - bring box cutters - and set it aside for recycling.

Have a designated person meet with catering staff in both the front and back of house to explain how waste should be handled and what goes where.


As the guest meals and the catering services are planned, ensure that the company you are using understands that ONLY reusable or compostable foodware is acceptable for your event. Ask that any exceptions be cleared ahead of time. One of the biggest contributors to recycling/composting bins becoming contaminated is when only some of the event foodware is compostable. Guests and staff will get confused if they're told that this clear cup is bioplastic so it's compostable, but this other clear cup used for veggies and dip is conventional plastic, so it's trash. It's much easier to be able to say 'Everything is compostable - put it all in the compost bins'. Folks are usually pretty good about knowing that aluminum cans and glass beer bottles don't go in the compost bins.

Remember, conventional plastic is only recyclable when it's clean. A single-serve yogurt parfait cup or hummus cup may be recyclable at home because it can be rinsed out, but at an event, guests are not going to be rinsing out their containers before tossing them in the recycle bin, And that leads to the water bottles, soda cans, and beer bottles in that same bin being covered in goop!

Anything served in a compostable boxed lunch is going to end up stuffed in that box and tossed into the compost bin. So, if the boxed lunch includes a bag of chips, some mustard and ketchup packets, and a yogurt cup, all of that will end up as contamination in the compost bin.

Consider using pump bottles for condiments. You can also provide compostable souffle cups for use with the pump bottles. Perhaps this is a bit less convenient than individual packets. But holding convenience as a value that trumps all other values is what got us into this environmental mess in the first place! You might consider putting labels on your condiment pumps that state 'This Bottle Saved x Amount of Ketchup/Mustard, etc. Packets from Landfill!' The number on the label can be estimated based on how many guests are expected at your event. Measures like this tend to reduce guest grumbling - no one wants to be seen as pro-trash!

If you must use single-serve snacks, consider temporarily moving out the compost/recycle bins but leaving the trash bins. At the least, let staff know that all that packaging from snack break needs to be trashed. If single-serve snacks are inside of boxed lunches, make an announcement to your guests that the box and food can be composted, but the chip bags, etc. should be put in the trash.


Measure how much has been recovered from the event. Bags can be weighed, but it might be more appropriate to measure volume. Plastic film and plastic bottles are very light, while glass bottles and food scraps are heavy. A cubic yard of compacted plastic film weighs about 150 pounds, while a cubic yard of glass bottles weighs about 2,800 pounds!

Create a final report that covers resource recovery by material. This is not as difficult as it sounds, as food scraps and compostable foodware ('organics') is collected separately than mixed recycling. Cardboard is typically collected separately as well, since even when it is flattened, it takes up a lot of space in the even collection bins. Most of the plastic film is collected pre-event, during set up. Use visuals in your report to make it easy and quick to digest, such as a pictograph representing total waste recovered.

Also include any contamination or rejection in the final report - what ended up in the bins that shouldn't be there? What was thrown out that shouldn't have been? Using clear plastic bags for collection makes this step easier.

Finally, include any suggestions for how to improve things for next time. What could be done differently to increase resource recovery at the next event?


Of course, the best way to ensure the maximum amount of landfill diversion from your event is to hire a diversion expert - that's us! We provide:

  • Bin rental

  • Event waste management staffing and training of your staff

  • Certified compostable foodware

  • Compost and recycling processing with an industrial/commercial facility

  • Waste diversion reporting.

Contact us at 313-474-7090, email us at, or fill out our online contact form to discuss your next event!

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