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Making Meetings Green – Zero Waste Meetings

2008 September 5

About the author: Viccy Salazar joined EPA in 1995. She works in our Seattle office on waste reduction, resource conservation and stewardship issues.

I work for the government. One of the things that this means is that I spend a lot of time in meetings. Since I, or someone on my team, is often planning the meetings, my team decided to see what we could do to ensure that the meetings we host don’t use unnecessary resources.

The first thing we did was look on EPA’s website for green meetings. We clicked on the link for meeting planners and go directed to a list of 10 easy things to do – well, it didn’t seem easy to us but we were committed so we moved ahead. As a team, we decided that we wanted to 1) be as zero waste as possible, 2) minimize the amount people had to travel by providing options, and 3) track our result and savings.

We thought zero waste would be the easy one. We called up our local organic caterer and asked if they did zero waste. By zero waste we meant – no packaging, durable serving platters, plates, silverware, and cups, they would compost the food waste and any other non-durable items, and finally, they would carry away and wash everything. Simple, right? Well, not really. They said they did organic but not zero waste. We worked with them and finally got ‘almost’ zero waste. It required some work and the vendor had not done it before. One thing we learned was that it was important to be very specific with your food vendor and conference facility about what you want. Getting recycling at the event seemed easier but we still had to educate the meeting attendees to actually recycle!

We don’t always order out. Sometimes, we go and buy the food for meetings ourselves. When doing that, we learned some lessons like: buy from the bakery and take in your own platters. Almost all of the packaging provided by the shops is either plastic or has a plastic window in it – not zero waste. Provide drinks by making it up in a pitcher, serving drinks in cans (very recyclable) or making coffee/tea. Most other drink types had lids that needed to be disposed of. Fruits and vegetables work great – just be sure to carry in your own bags so you don’t end up with plastic bag waste.

The upshot of our lessons for providing food at meetings is:

  1. be clear about what you want, ask for it – we want it to become part of their service package,
  2. communicate to the meeting attendees what you are doing, they like it, and
  3. do the best you can – you can’t always get everything you want.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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12 Responses leave one →
  1. Alex permalink
    September 5, 2008

    great post! working with your food provider is a good idea. usually if they’re plastic maniacs we just give in, but there are obviously options.

  2. Lina-EPA permalink*
    September 5, 2008

    Great info. We definitely need to increase awareness among meeting planners and food providers. Here’s some good info for a waste free lunch at schools:

  3. Viccy permalink
    September 6, 2008

    We had a lot of caterers who wouldn’t do it, including organic caterers. We just had to be very strict with who we picked. We are in Seattle so you would think it would be easy.

    Look for my upcoming post on how to minimize travel at meetings. Another big issue if you are going to have meetings.

  4. Michigan Business Directory permalink
    September 6, 2008

    Going Green is all the buzz – this is some great information not only for meetings but business expo’s alike.
    Michigan Business Directory

  5. Doug permalink
    September 7, 2008

    Good overview. We have been using restaraunts that bring in food in aluminum pans and we buy all the plates, knives, cups…………from

  6. Brenda permalink
    September 9, 2008

    I love your post! Right on target. Here at the Caribbean Environmental Protection Division we don’t host many meetings but for our press conferences I makes sure everything I have is recyclable. Earlier this year we co-hosted a meeting and even though we were not in charge of the food I tried to talk to the caterer into paper cups and plates…to no avail…

  7. Viccy permalink
    September 9, 2008

    It the next month or so, we will have documents to share about what worked, what didn’t and example requests and language. We are also calculating the environmental outcomes. Feel free to send me an e-mail if you want more information and if you have any great ideas or resources, send them on to me. We are compiling the info for our website so not everyone has to learn the hard way like we did.

  8. Viccy permalink
    September 9, 2008

    are you providing any information out to your members about green meetings?

  9. Viccy permalink
    September 9, 2008

    Try asking for durable/washable plate, cups and serving dishes if they won’t compost for you. I haven’t done the calculations but I think it might be a better way to go anyhow. If you have to use disposable, make sure they are not wax lined or plastic, those take a really long time to decompose in the landfill.

    We also found that smaller businesses are sometimes easier to work with, they have more flexibility. Yesterday, we had a meeting where lunches were going to be served and the caterer agreed to not bring the boxes. It worked just fine and we ended up with a lot less trash.

  10. Adam permalink
    December 17, 2008

    Actually, it’s interesting I stumbled across this. I’m the owner of a small business and I’m looking for some good small business resources for “going green”. We’re a tech company, if that helps.

    If you have any info, please respond to


  11. Sri Lanka Business Directory permalink
    October 6, 2010

    wonderful thoughts/ info. stumbled and bookmarked

  12. randymyrans permalink
    March 2, 2012

    Zero Waste Meetings in conference Facility like this is really environment friendly.

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