At The Offset Project (TOP), a Monterey-based nonprofit specializing in zero-waste events and environmental stewardship, leaders and workers alike count on getting their hands dirty…very dirty.
“Implementing food waste and zero waste programs takes an indefatigable sense of purpose,” noted Abbie Beane, director of sustainability programs for TOP. “We not only work on the management level, but sometimes we are in the trenches trying to spot the tip of a clear straw in a pile of raw rib eye. Onlookers are initially confused by our dumpster diving, but then often become inspired by our action-oriented approach.”
TOP works with individuals, municipalities, businesses, and special event organizers to establish sound waste policies and implement best practices in environmental stewardship. Founded in 2007, the project got its start with recycling and composting stations at festivals, with members educating attendees on how to separate their own garbage to achieve the highest rate of waste diversion. TOP educated the public on how that material can “close the loop” by being transformed into compost for regional vineyards, or renewable electricity via anaerobic digestion to power the nearby Monterey Peninsula Water Pollution Control Agency.
This public education agenda has grown to encompass more than 30 special events and venues throughout Monterey County. TOP has adopted programs including zero-waste public education, food waste collection for food vendors and caterers, public compostables collection in eating areas, and recycling assistance. The group also implements zero-waste operations at large events, working with promoters to eliminate the purchase of “trash” materials, separating materials as much as possible at the source, and sorting every last piece of event refuse, from rolls of used Astroturf to chips bags and candy wrappers sent to Terracycle, where they are turned into re-usable bags and related products. TOP even helps special events attain environmental certifications that require everything from emissions ”foot printing” to charitable giving. And finally, TOP runs the Monterey Bay Carbon Fund, which offers carbon offsets that pay for local solar projects.
“The City of Monterey has benefited tremendously from partnership with The Offset Project,” said Ted Terrasas, sustainability director for the City of Monterey. “Their level of expertise and public education experience have assisted us greatly in interacting effectively with the business community.”
TOP’s zero-waste model has resulted in diversion rates exceeding 95 percent at the Big Sur International Marathon and half marathon, which features 4500 registered runners plus thousands more support staff, volunteers and fans. With TOP’s help, the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am golf tournament achieved 95 percent diversion in 2014, which included diverting some 22,000 pounds of food waste (7,000 to the food bank), 35,000 pounds of Astroturf, and 40,000 pounds of wood and laminate flooring. TOP diverts food waste at some 30 events per year, pulling out anywhere from 2 to 10 tons on average.
TOP also works on implementing and managing some 25 business food waste programs and assists businesses with recycling, sustainable purchasing, and carbon offsets. Tens of thousands of tourists flock to the Monterey Peninsula each year, and while not every visitor prioritizes environmental sustainability, many Peninsula restaurants and hotels have made sustainable tourism a cornerstone of their business model. TOP’s program starts with business and hotel managers, who authorize the changes, and ends with the line cook who, at the end of the night, is the ultimate gatekeeper of recycling, trash, and compost bins and how much waste actually gets diverted. Despite the staunchest company commitments, the environment can still get lost in the shuffle of daily operations.
TOP leverages partner funds and in-kind support to create environmental change. Those partners and businesses include regional waste management districts, regional haulers, governments, and businesses like Pebble Beach Company, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, and the Professional Golf Association.
“In partnership with the Monterey Peninsula Foundation, Pebble Beach Company, and The Offset Project, we achieved a 95 percent diversion of all the waste product during the 2014 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am golf tournament week, an event drawing more than 130,000 spectators,” said Beat Giger, director of special events for Pebble Beach Company. “We could not have achieved this success without the leadership of The Offset Project team and their tireless efforts. We are very proud of these results.”