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2019 staff summer celebration

UC San Diego's 2019 Staff Summer Celebration achieved a 97% diversion rate.

How to Host a Zero-Waste Event

The Staff Sustainability Network developed these guidelines for hosting a zero-waste event in August 2019 to lead the Staff Association Event Planning Committee through the necessary steps for making the Annual Staff Summer Celebration a successful zero-waste event. With the Network's help, the Staff Association achieved a 97% diversion rate.

Help UC San Diego reach its waste diversion goals by making your next conference, seminar or training session a zero-waste event. Here's how you can ensure that your event doesn't generate waste that goes to the landfill.

What is Zero Waste?

Waste is anything at your event that you must throw away, including, but not limited to: food, dinnerware (plates, cups, utensils and napkins), brochures, giveaways/promotional items, decorations, centerpieces, signage, raffle tickets, wrappers, beverage bottles and cans. You can achieve zero waste by reusing, recycling, reducing and composting.


  • Be proactive about making your event zero waste. Start by telling everyone (caters, vendors, tablers and attendees) that your event is zero waste.
  • Digitally market your event. This includes social media, websites, Eventbrite and campus marquees. See University Center's Digital Announcement
  • Use QR Codes wherever possible. Attendees can scan them with a smartphone camera.
  • Register for Basic Needs’ Free Food Notification App to send a message to students when leftover food from events is available.
  • Choose eco-friendly vendors to help reduce waste during your event. Work with caterers to see if they can provide zero-waste options.
  • If you’re self-catering, using reusable or recyclable dinnerware and provide self-serve food and beverage stations with appropriate portions to avoid excess food waste and individual containers.
  • Know what disposable items will be at your event and how to recycle and properly dispose of waste. Ask caterers what type of dinnerware they provide and vendors/tablers what materials they will be distributing.
  • Provide proper (waste, recycling, composting and specialty) receptacles in strategic locations.
    • Limit the number of locations to reduce confusion.
    • Recycling bins are usually located in training and meeting rooms, but for larger events, you can order more from Facilities Management.
    • Assign and train volunteers to each location to assist in proper disposal.
    • If necessary, request/create signage to let attendees know which disposables go where.
    • Determine who is responsible for emptying receptacles. Agree before the event who will weigh the waste streams and how immediately following the event.

Caters/Food Service

  • Choose reusable if the option is available and affordable (e.g., dinnerware, platters, beverage and condiment dispensers).
  • Choose disposable items that are:
    • Recyclable: Plastic dinnerware, bottles and cans
    • Compostable: Brown paper dinnerware, wooden utensils and stirrers, tea bags, sugar packets
  • Avoid individual serving-size items (e.g., water bottles, soda cans, chip or cookie bags, wrapped popsicles or candy bars, wrapped utensil sets).

Catering/Food Service Resources


  • Encourage reuse of common supplies, such as tablecloths, decorations, games and props
  • Avoid single-use items, like balloons, streamers, printed event materials with specific dates. Locations, etc.
  • Handouts: print smaller, double-sided flyers (1/4 letter sheet) to maximize space, or print one flyer with a QR code that links to a webpage so attendees can scan with a smartphone.
  • Giveaways/Promotional items: Offer reusable, practical items rather than single-use ones; consider the item packaging (e.g., film sleeves, wrappers) and avoid individually wrapped items

Vendor/Tabler Resources


  • Bring reusable bags, beverage containers and utensils.
  • Don't take or accept items that you don't plan to use.
  • Know how to dispose of items properly and pay attention to recycling/waste signage.

Attendee Resources


If you have questions about hosting a zero waste event, contact