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Tips to reduce event waste

How to Reduce Waste at Events

Events are planned public or social occasions that include everything from weddings to local summer fairs, massive music festivals, and even a simple picnic in the park. They can be indoors or outside, raising money and awareness for a cause with charity events, or simply celebrating the culture loved by a certain group of people.

Large numbers of people gathering in the same place at one time to celebrate something are always going to leave behind lots of rubbish. That’s why it’s important if you’re running any size and type of event to plan effectively and consider ways to reduce waste at your event.

Reducing waste at events benefits the environment and should save you money on waste management costs. Discover how to reduce waste at events whether you’re organising a wedding, hosting an outdoor market, or putting on a music festival with the following tips and advice.

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Why do events need 
to reduce waste?

Events generate huge amounts of waste. For example, music festivals in the UK create 23,500 tonnes of waste every year while the average wedding can produce 20kg of plastic waste. Considering there are around 250,000 weddings in the UK every year it means about 5 million kg of just plastic gets wasted by weddings.

Recycling is important at any event to ensure as much material as possible is recovered and reused. However, reducing waste at the source is even better as it minimises the carbon footprint created by transporting waste and the energy required to recycle it. It also eliminates the risk of waste going to landfill and rotting, releasing greenhouse gases.

Reducing rubbish at events helps cut the costs of waste collection and disposal. Such costs should be factored into your budget. Recycling may minimise them but reducing waste means you can use fewer and smaller bins with less frequent waste collections, which will significantly benefit your bottom line.

Find more festival waste management tips
people having fun at an event.

How to reduce event waste

The kind of event you’re organising and its size are the main factors that affect the types and amount of waste it may create. Many of the same tips apply whether you’re putting on a small theatre production, a charity bake sale, or a three-day music festival. Simply adapt, scale, and tailor the tips to your event.

Discover how to reduce waste at events of any type, size, or location with these steps:

  • Create a waste management plan – a good overview of the waste types and a rough estimate of volumes your event will generate are vital to working to reduce it. If you’ve run the same or a similar event before, use any previous data to see where you should prioritise waste reduction. Build an effective waste management plan covering the types, number, and sizes of bins you need, where they’ll be placed, and how often they’ll be emptied.
  • Restrict entry items – many events have restrictions on what attendees can bring into their venues. Preventing people from bringing in outside food and drink can help you plan more accurately for the amount of waste your event will produce. This should reduce it and avoid overflowing bins that can cause a health hazard.
  • Use sustainable suppliers – whatever kind of event you’re planning you’ll likely use suppliers for food, drink, equipment, and more. Shop around and find those that use minimal packaging (or at least biodegradable and recyclable options). This should help reduce packaging waste from your event.
  • Install clear signs and bins – clear and colour-coded signs for bins and recycling stations encourage attendees to separate waste and recycle as much as possible. Signs directing people to bins and obvious colours for different materials make it easy for punters to recycle, reducing the amount of litter and rubbish lazily thrown away with general waste.
  • Choose a green venue – an easy way to reduce waste at your event is to hold it at a venue or location that also wants to reduce waste. Ask about their current recycling policies, sustainability certifications, and waste management work to see if they align with your aims. You might find a venue that’s already on top of its waste reduction that aligns with your goals.
  • Donate leftover items – after any event, you’ll probably have an array of items that you can’t put in storage or reuse. Find a local food bank, farm, or animal shelter to donate any food before it goes off or look to community causes that may want any electronic equipment or furniture. Various charities may accept all sorts of products to use, sell, or pass on to those in need.

How to reduce festival waste

Thousands of festivals are held across the UK every year – from massive multi-day music festivals to community celebrations, beer festivals, food fairs, and more. Each one generates a wide range of waste types whether it’s an indoor one-day gin festival or an open-air weekend car show. Unfortunately, around 68% of UK festival waste goes to landfill.

Reducing waste at festivals is therefore a priority and you can minimise rubbish at your event with these tips:

  • Remove singleuse items – the single-use plastic ban means your festival shouldn’t have any disposable plastic cutlery or straws. Other single-use items like paper towels, napkins, and cups often create lots of general waste though. Use electric hand driers or provide cloth towel rolls where possible and serve drinks in reusable and returnable cups.
  • Run cup return incentives – serving drinks in reusable plastic cups cuts down on plastic waste while water taps discourage buying bottled water. Some people may still throw away these cups but charging a deposit that attendees can get back if they return such cups is a great solution. Plus, the cups can be washed and reused at other events.
  • Create a litter-picking team – you can’t control how attendees behave at your festival so forming a litter-picking team is vital. They can walk around the site, collect rubbish, and ensure it’s placed in the proper bins for recycling.
  • Communicate with vendors – set sustainable standards for any external vendors operating at your festival to reduce waste. Create a policy around waste and materials to ensure they’re on board with minimising waste at their stalls, know how and where to recycle rubbish, and don’t provide any single-use items.
  • Erect big signs – cut down on paper waste caused by programmes and leaflets with big signs around your site (even if these are made from paper). You can put a programme online as well, but even a few posters and signs should significantly reduce the paper used and wasted across your festival.
  • Allow clear-ups – around 250,000 tents get left behind after UK music festivals each year. Allow people, community groups, charities, and other organisations to access your site after the festival to take away any abandoned tents they want. This saves on huge amounts of textile waste.
  • Review and improve – if you run a regular festival, assess where you managed to reduce waste and identify room for improvement. Keep a record and data each year to see if you’ve improved and use this information to set new goals next time.
crowd in front of a stage at a music festival.

How to reduce waste at weddings

Is there a happier event than a wedding (unless an ex turns up)? One thing that’s less joyous about weddings is the amount of waste they can create. Leftover food, decorations, and clothing all add up as weddings in the UK generate nearly 40 million tonnes of solid waste every year.

Plan for a sustainable big day with these steps to reduce wedding waste:

  • Send digital invitations – save the dates and invitations sent to all your guests can use plenty of paper (including the envelopes and any physical RSVPs). Go for an email invite to save paper and costs.
  • Skip the buffet – having a buffet as the wedding breakfast or for an evening do is convenient. However, buffets of any kind encourage food waste as people pile their plates too high. A set menu with a few options guests choose in advance ensures people get a meal they should enjoy and eat.
  • Rent equipment – there are lots of things you need for a wedding day that you’re unlikely to use again, so why not hire them instead? A wedding dress, tuxedo and top hat, balloon arch, decorations, sound systems, and other items are cheaper to rent, and they’ll be reused rather than stored away or thrown out afterwards.
  • Select a seasonal menu – picking a wedding menu full of local and seasonal ingredients reduces carbon emissions and ensures everything is fresh to reduce the risk of spoilage. Do the same with flowers, working with a local florist should mean there’s less chance of wilting.
  • Request green gifts – make a desired gift list full of sustainable presents and give green wedding favours to loved ones. This way you hopefully won’t receive any unwanted gifts that are stored in the cupboard for years or disposed of soon after the ceremony.
  • Donate leftovers – almost everything you don’t need after the wedding will be happily accepted by local charities and organisations. Send food, clothes, decorations, flowers, and anything else to places that can make use of them to reduce your wedding waste.
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Read more waste reduction guides

Many industries and businesses also create all kinds of waste during their daily operations that could be reduced with a few simple steps. Uncover ways to cut back on certain waste types and in specific sectors with our expert guides.

How to reduce waste
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