As a team of food event planners, we have always been familiar with the annoying complications of waste. At every event there's the added responsibility of sending your waste to the right place. On our farm tours we always compost, but with the development of a larger event we wanted to iron out a plan that matched our business' values - a zero waste plan.
We've made a lot of friends along the way in the planning process of GATHER's zero waste initiative and so it has tied in with other's work and insight on the island's waste-system including Sail MV, Island Grown Schools, Morning Glory Farm, Composting on the Coast, the Vineyard Conservation Society and Slow Food MV. All organizations have contributed to the education of zero waste on the island in an impactful way.
If you are on the island this fall, do check out the Living Local Harvest Festival, a two day event showcasing all the glories of the island from local food, music to our amazing non-profits. This year the theme is "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" - many events are planned to educate and to get people jazzed about what they can do to curb waste.
Here are some of the insights we have gained the Farm.Field.Sea.'s summer pop-up series GATHER.
1. Planning Your Menu
What's on your menu directly affects what ends up in the bins at the end of the night. First step is to work closely with your chef / caterer. How can you together streamline the menu so the food can be diverted correctly at the end of the event? One way to do this is to have your menu coincide with the waste disposal opportunities you have. For example, do you have a pig farmer nearby to supply kitchen scraps, or just a farm that composts? There is no commercial composting site yet besides the farm networks you can setup on your own, like we did with Morning Glory. Shellfish is a great menu item as they can be used for restoration and remediation for our ponds via our friends at the MV Shellfish Group's shell recycling program. Right now there is a pilot program in place where they will drop off and pick up all the composting and shell recycling containers you need (and weigh them) in partnership with Composting on the Coast. Lets support them to have this service as a regular offering!
In that vein, not every event is going to have the same waste disposal needs. You need to make signage work for your event. Signage must be educational, and engaging. Depending on your event design, attendees can either be told where to put their waste, or staff can handle waste diversion like we did behind this sign including a dishwashing station, compost bin, recycling container, shell recycling bin, and trash.
At Sail MV's Vineyard Cup, they hired some of their young sailors to help with the diverting of waste and provide education to attendees. This is another way to handle waste at a large event that was deemed successful by Sail MV's Director, Brock Callen.
3. Event Design
Designing a space that allows waste to be disposed of properly goes beyond having the right signage. For us, it is easier for our wait staff to handle all waste diversion. At the GATHER events so far, service trays were laid out so that people may rest their glasses, used napkins and plates of food (if any was left behind). Service trays were regularly cleared into bins, as mentioned previously, behind this blue tent and large chalkboard explaining what staff were doing. When you leave this diversion to the customer, signage is never enough to keep the wrong things out of the bin (especially when nothing brought to the event by our design was meant to go in the trash).
4. Where does the waste go?
Our friend Noli Taylor of Island Grown Schools completed an amazing survey of where our waste goes for the Vineyard Gazette and her team has set up compost stations at the MV High School. Turns out, our waste goes off island to SEMAP. Why should our waste go off island, especially if 40% of it is food waste?
we send 10,000 to 12,000 tons of trash off-Island for incineration or burial every year. That’s between 2 and 2.4 million pounds of trash from our community. In July and August, MVRD alone hauls two to three trailer trucks full of trash off Island every day. ... roughly 45 per cent of the weight of the trash they dispose of is food waste."
In inspiration of these facts, we decided to work with Morning Glory Farm as our compost vendor because they can handle all types of compostable material including meat, fish, citrus, napkins - items that are difficult for small home compost piles to handle. For recycling and limited trash needs, we contracted Bruno's pickup from our site location.
Waste is never really pretty...
5. How do you track your progress?
Tracking progress is not tricky - just keep track of the weight of waste that was outputted from the event. A zero waste event is never perfect the first time, and therefore leaves for improvement in the way we menu plan with chefs to reduce food waste, and change the way we host through using rental companies for reusable dining ware like Big Sky Tent Rentals.
If you want to learn more about how you can host a zero waste event on Martha's Vineyard, refer to our team, or the rest of our zero waste network on the island. We are happy to share our event design and waste management skills to help make this island a less wasteful place!
Penned by the staff of Farm. Field. Sea. and inspired by the experiences of working with Martha's Vineyard's chefs, farmers, fisherman, oyster cultivators, artisan producers and food educators.