Zero Waste – It’s a Picnic!

CalRecycle’s SoCal Social Committee hosted its 4th annual Zero Waste Summer Picnic in Long Beach a few weeks ago for employees, their family members, and members of CalRecycle’s executive staff. Each year, the picnic gives us a chance to practice what we preach, give to those in need, and relax with our co-workers and friends.

“It’s only fair that we lead by example,” says Primitivo Nuñez, a supervisor in CalRecycle’s Local Assistance and Market Development Branch. “We ask a lot of our jurisdictions to reduce waste. It’s great for us to emulate these practices and realize the challenges.”

The picnic was advertised as a zero waste event, and folks were reminded to bring reusable utensils and dishware. Reusable “mess kits,” which included a table setting and a cloth napkin, were also available for rent for $1.

Each member of the planning team had a different role: washing dishes, recycling the beverage containers, and donating the food to charity.

We had clear signage showing what material goes into which bag, which is important for a successful zero waste event.  The City of Long Beach’s compost demonstration station was used to handle the organic waste generated at the picnic.  Unfortunately, the city’s compost system does not allow for chicken bones or dairy products, which ended up contaminating the waste stream. For next year’s picnic, we will have a designated volunteer at the waste station to avoid contamination. 

Picnic Waste Bins

At the end of the picnic, leftover food was first offered to employees to take home to their families. The remaining food was donated to a local food bank, Food Finders. A total of 13 pounds of edible food was donated! This included sandwiches, chips, and vegetables.

“It really was a team effort,” says Nuñez.

Mallory Burden, an environmental scientist in the Long Beach office, was an integral part in planning the SoCal Picnic. Burden offers the following advice for others planning an annual zero waste event:  

“Realize that the up-front costs will be a good investment. Purchasing reusable items for the first event will pay off. It will pay off year after year and get cheaper and simpler over time. And, if you don’t get to zero waste on that first event, don’t beat yourself up! Focus on the successes and work on goals for next time.”

We can all strive to reduce waste at our social and work-related events. Here are some quick tips on how to host a successful zero waste event.

Before Your Event:

  1. Gather some friends! Organize a team (at least two or three people) to help support, plan, and execute your zero waste event.
  2. Share your story! Advertise the event as zero waste on all flyers/correspondence, and explain why you have made this your goal.
  3. Be clear. Be up-front about what people need to bring and not bring to your zero waste event. For example: 
    –Please bring a reusable cup for beverages. 
    –Please limit packaging when bringing food items; 
    –Reusable cutlery will be available.
  4. Assign duties. It will be helpful to know ahead of time who will be handling the different waste streams.
  5. Show, don’t tell. Create clear signage (with pictures) on your waste, recycling, and compost bins at designated waste stations. People will only take a few seconds to try to decipher where to put what, so make it as easy as possible!
  6. Tell them again. Remind people before the event about what to bring and what not to bring.

During Your Event:

  1. Shout it from the rooftops! Remind people that this is a zero waste event and give them instructions on how to participate successfully.
  2. Avoid waste. Encourage folks to not serve themselves more than they plan to consume. This will ensure there is enough food for everyone and limit food waste
  3. Avoid contamination. A carefully thought-out zero waste event can be derailed if it is unclear where discarded items go. To avoid contamination in your waste, recycling, and compost bins, it helps to have a volunteer to direct people where to throw discards.
  4. Donate. Give leftover food to attendees or to a local food bank.

After Your Event:

  1. Measure your success! Weigh the discards of your event to determine how much of the waste stream was diverted from landfills!
  2. Debrief. Discuss lessons learned, areas for improvement, and any obstacles that may have occurred.
  3. Share what your learned. Hosting a zero waste event takes effort. Share what you’ve learned with friends, family, or co-workers to educate and inspire more people to be conscious of waste.
  4. Celebrate! Pat yourself on the back and enjoy the successes of your zero waste event.
Picnic Waste Group
— Angela Vincent
Posted on Oct 16, 2016

Summary: CalRecycle’s SoCal Social Committee hosted its 4th annual Zero Waste Summer Picnic in Long Beach a few weeks ago for employees, their family members, and members of CalRecycle’s executive staff. Each year, the picnic gives us a chance to practice what we preach, give to those in need, and relax with our co-workers and friends.