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Toward Zero Waste Events

Events generate tons of food waste and single-use items that are sent to landfills. Zero waste events reduce the amount of harmful greenhouse gas released into the atmosphere by organic material when buried in a landfill. They are also a powerful way to change the public's perceptions about waste and make people more aware of their environmental impact. Zero waste isn’t a measurement – it’s a goal and strategy of reuse, composting and recycling in order to minimize the waste sent to landfills. By striving for zero waste, organizations and businesses can show their commitment to sustainability, reduce their impact on the environment and conserve natural resources. The key to a zero waste event is careful planning so that all materials used are reusable, recyclable or compostable.

Zero Waste at Encinitas EcoFest

Organizers of Encinitas EcoFest reached out to Solana Center to help them create a zero waste strategy for their 10th annual environmental community event. With support from EDCO, Solana Center helped organizers with the planning and training of volunteers. Encinitas EcoFest took place on Sunday, May 15th at Coastal Roots Farm in Encinitas and was attended by approximately 4,000 people. Solana Center’s Zero Waste Coordinator, Mark DiMaggio, met with volunteer and event organizer, Kasia Epstein to identify an attainable waste diversion goal and strategies. An organization’s waste diversion goal is based on a number of factors and varies from event to event. Planning and training is key, according to DiMaggio.

"I know that we have exceeded our goals, as we put the bar at 50% diversion and there is much room to improve, but I feel like this was a 100% success of collaboration and education and we could have not done it without you," said EcoFest Pavilion Chair, Kasia Epstein

On the day of the event, sorting stations were set up and DiMaggio conducted a training for the 35-40 volunteers that staffed each station over three different shifts.  Each station had four bins: one for landfill, one for recycling, one for food scraps and one was left empty. An empty container was included at each station to represent compostable plates, cups and cutlery that were acquired prior to planning and would not be accepted by any of the local composting facilities due to the length of time they require to compost.

 “The empty container caused attendees to ask volunteers questions, which generated conversations about waste,” said DiMaggio. “We succeeded in turning it into a teachable moment.”

Weight was tabulated throughout the day and an assessment of volume was done at the end of the 7 hour long event. Encinitas EcoFest exceeded its zero waste goal and reached a 61% waste diversion rate. Of overall waste diverted, 47% was food scraps. The final results included: 342.7 lbs. of total waste 210.2 lbs. total waste diverted 161.9 lbs. total food waste diverted 48.3 lbs. total recycling 132.5 lbs. of landfill Solana Center worked with the Leichtag Foundation’s Coastal Roots Farm to provide composting of food scrap on site. There are often challenges in regards to where to take organic material to be composted. Solana Center understands the problems and can help find solutions.

“People want to do the right thing but we need a more comprehensive composting plan in San Diego County,” said DiMaggio.

What are the zero waste challenges for San Diegans?

San Diego County lacks the infrastructure to handle widescale, local composting of organic material. There are only a few composting facilities in the San Diego region and the types of waste they will take is limited. With new waste disposal laws and regulations in place, businesses need to develop a plan to divert food scraps from landfills. Solana Center can help develop a customized plan for your business.

Want to make your next event zero waste?

Solana Center is your local zero waste resource. We are here to guide and help you to achieve your zero waste goals. Contact Solana Center’s Zero Waste Coordinator at for consulting services. The City of Encinitas loans ClearStream Recycling Containers to organizations to assist with event recycling. Click here for more information.