Workin’ it From Home: Hosting Zero-waste Events

Workin’ it From Home: Hosting Zero-waste Events

About the series

We’re all spending more time at home than we used to, whether due to remote and hybrid work arrangements, “hanging in” with friends and family instead of going out, or cooking and ordering delivery instead of dining at restaurants.

The growth of these trends has shifted the role of home from a place we sleep to a central landing pad for nearly everything we do: work, life, family, connection, health, wellness, and more.

“Home has always been a place to rest and recover, but 10 years ago we were more likely to rely on activities outside of home to boost wellness.” » IKEA Life at Home study.

The increased time spent at home reveals opportunities to adopt more sustainable practices in our daily lives, which can increase health and wellness and reduce our environmental impact.

Home Sweet Home is becoming Home Sustainable Home.

I’m turning the tables on us for this series.

These emails are not about what we should ask our audiences to do at home. Instead, they focus on us (you and me) as the audience.

We spend our work hours protecting the planet, yet there are actions we can take at home that contribute to and support our environmental efforts at work.

I invited four experts from the Making Moves community to share how we can practice sustainability at home—in other words, how we can be…

WFH: Workin’ it From Home! 

Through an interview format, we’ll receive tips about hosting zero-waste events, supporting local pollinators, reducing energy consumption, and preventing food waste.

Summer is on the horizon here in the U.S., a time for social gatherings, cookouts, picnics, outdoor events, and more. Unfortunately, these fun activities often leave garbage cans filled with single-use plastics like plates, silverware, and red solo cups.

For our first post, I invited Adrienne Thomas, the Sustainability Specialist at the Montgomery Parks Department in Maryland, to share her tips and experiences hosting zero-waste events we can implement at home.

Thank you for joining us, Adrienne! Let’s start by getting us all on the same page. Can you tell us what a zero-waste event is?

A zero-waste event is a planned event that produces no waste OR as little waste as possible. The idea is to have a reduce, reuse, and recycle mindset and use materials that will stay out of the waste stream.

What interested you in hosting zero-waste events and helping others host them?

I have always cared about the environment. When I was younger, I used to tell, or ADVISE, people around me to not litter. I made sure they threw their trash away. As I got older and learned more about waste management, I realized how much more involved protecting the environment really is.

What is the hardest part about hosting a zero-waste event?

The size of the event and the audience play a huge factor in successfully hosting a zero-waste event. A smaller, more intimate event in the workplace or at home is much easier to monitor than a large one, especially one for the public.

In either event, it does help to have a waste sorting station that includes trash, recycling for commingled materials, recycling for paper products, and a compost bin if available. Having appropriate signage is also important, but realistically, it does not always make a difference.

How do you keep your motivation going? I’m sure there have been frustrations and setbacks.

I stay motivated when I see people in both my personal and professional life making small changes to reduce their waste. I am not expecting anyone to be perfect or make drastic changes overnight, so when I see people start to be more aware of how much waste they’re producing and actively take steps to reduce it or use alternate materials, I get even more inspired to continue with my work.

What would be the first step in getting started if we wanted to host a zero-waste event at home or work?

The first step would be determining the size of the event. I suggest starting with a small event so there is less pressure to ensure as little waste as possible. You can have a clearly labeled waste sorting station and announce the event’s waste goals when the guests arrive. That way, everyone is on the same page and respectful.

What’s the biggest culprit of waste at an event that we should be on the lookout for?

Red solo cups and single-use plastic water bottles!

There is a “fun” connotation associated with red solo cups that I’m sure we can all agree on, but these cups are actually very wasteful. While they are plastic, they are not recyclable because they are made from polystyrene, a plastic that is notoriously difficult to recycle. This means all of those cups should go into the trash and ultimately end up at a landfill or incinerator.

When it comes to single-use plastic water bottles, there will always be issues with replacing them because of their convenience and hygienic advantages (especially post-COVID). While I can completely understand the draw to them, there are alternatives.

If you are hosting a smaller event, it is fairly easy to have a large water dispenser (think a Gatorade-style one for casual events and a glass one for more upscale events) or a water refill station like a Quench Buggy. Companies like these provide clean, mobile drinking water stations for rent, or if you host events regularly, it could be worth purchasing one.

Should guests be told in advance that they’re attending a zero-waste event? What’s the most important thing to communicate?

Yes! Guests should always know the goals of the event so they can be as mindful and respectful as possible. If they are bringing anything to the event, whether it is food, utensils, or giveaways, they can have an opportunity to use alternative materials that are either recyclable or compostable. It is always a good idea to let the guests know there will be a waste sorting station available with proper signage.

What has been your proudest moment to date about hosting a zero or reduced waste event?

In April 2023, I hosted my first reduced waste event, which was extremely successful. It was a workshop centered around houseplants and their basic care.

I chose a local caterer that provided food buffet-style with reusable containers and mint and fruit-infused water that was served in a glass dispenser. I supplied compostable dishware and utensils. There was a waste sorting station that included trash, recyclables, and compostables. The only true waste that was produced was the individual packets of butter that came with the dinner rolls.

After the event, the catering company returned to pick up their containers and donated the leftover food to a local shelter. We took the compostable materials to Pope Farm, our premier nursery that grows all the plants and trees for the Department. Also, our other nursery, Brookside Gardens, kindly donated 50 small plants as giveaways for each guest. I still have people reach out to me about how well their plant is thriving!

Where can we get additional information and resources on hosting our first zero-waste event?

Currently, Montgomery Parks is developing an internal manual for hosting a zero-waste or reduced-waste event that could potentially be available to the public. In the meantime, Montgomery County’s Department of Environmental Protection has a webpage dedicated to informing people about how to reduce waste in their lives.


→ Up next: Creating a buzz-worthy backyard.