Quick Tips to Reduce Food Waste

Do you ever read a business article and find it’s not only rich with useful information but humbling? A wonderful round up on Biz Bash about donating food after events led me to an article about food waste and then another one about event waste. I learned a lot about industry problems I’d already observed or overheard at one time or another — Our industry is incredibly wasteful. It’s second only to the construction industry in terms of waste.

I thought Kennedy Events did a great job of limiting our waste. We are attentive and thoughtful about all the things in our immediate purview. We are well-versed in waste diversion rules and regulations and ensure they are adhered to at our events. We count the number of meals that are picked up and left over so we can adjust accordingly at future events. We limit our paper usage and reuse and recycle what we can. We encourage our staff to bring water bottles and our events provide water dispensers, not bottles.

But as I was reading these articles it dawned on me that we could – and should – do better.

What humbled me into realizing we should do more? It was digging beyond the issue of food and paper waste into the other incredibly wasteful tools and techniques at conferences and conventions.

Food waste is still a big issue, as Shawna McKinley explains in her post Event Waste Exposé: The Dirty Dozen.

It can comprise a minimum of 20% – and in some cases up to 60% – of your event waste stream. Food waste is a problem that impacts all of us. So much so that some cities, such as Boston and Vancouver, are banning it from landfill. 

We work with our caterers to ensure waste diversion for leftover food. McKinley calls this “the easy button,” and she’s right. Food banks can’t take prepared food and have restrictions about what whole foods they can accept, too. But mindful catering companies have relationships with local shelters or agencies feeding the homeless, and will transport leftover food directly.

If your caterer doesn’t have a program of their own, BizBash has an excellent guide to donating food in major cities. In San Francisco, we love Food Runners, who BizBash describes as having a sizable impact on impact:

Food Runners has more than 200 active volunteers who pick up excess food from hotels, catering companies, venues, and more around the city. The organization estimate[s] it relays enough food for more than 5,000 meals each day to about 300 group homes, homeless shelters, after-school programs, and senior apartment communities. The organization was founded in 1987. 

And in New York, they recommend City Harvest which has been thinking about this problem long before many of us had even heard of composting; They’ve been around since 1982.

BizBash has excellent tips for minimizing food waste to reduce or eliminate leftovers altogether, in an article by Mitra Sorrell.

But when you scratch beneath the surface, there are many other practices we need to motivate vendors and venues to move away from. Here are just three big ones:

  1. Using polyvinyl nametag holders – even reused, there are better options for paper-only tags available
  2. Producing vinyl banners, particularly date- or place-listed ones. This is actually a big pet peeve of mine. Why announce “Welcome to Dreamforce 2016” on a banner when you can just write “Welcome to Dreamforce”!? Don’t we know what year it is?
  3. “Renting” carpet. When you rent carpet, it turns out you are usually buying it and the decor company is dumping it afterwards. McKinley shares these insights:

According to the Carpet America Recovery Effort, five billion pounds of carpet are sent to landfill annually in the USA….Ask your contractor how much of their carpet returns to inventory on average (it should be more than 75%), and how long carpet is typically used prior to being discarded (which should be measured in more than just a few events).

Avoid flooring designs that result in curved or excess trim, which can impede reuse and recovery. Have left-over carpet? Keep it from landfill by visiting the CARE website to find a carpet recycler near you. 

We can and will be taking the advice of these articles to create our own corporate sustainability plan. And we look forward to sharing the results of our efforts.  

Does your business have a corporate sustainability plan?  We’d love your feedback and insights!  Email us at info@kennedyevents.com.

(Photo Credit:  Mitch Tobias)
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