With thousands of events held on campus each year, incorporating sustainable best practices into your event can make a real difference.
As a faculty, staff or student at UBC it is likely that at some point you will be involved in organizing an event. Whether it is an international conference, an internal workshop, a recurring meeting, or a social, an event is an important opportunity to integrate and encourage sustainable and zero waste practices.
Zero Waste Events Guide
As you're planning your event, be sure to download our Zero Waste Event Guidelines Checklist, which summarizes the detailed information in the following web guide in an easy-to-use PDF format.
Reducing Waste Before Your Event
Identify possible sources of event waste such as packaging, disposable items used for catering, paper handouts and work with other event organizers, vendors, caterers and exhibitors to reduce or eliminate these sources
Learn what goes where through UBC’s Sort It Out program.
Learn about preferred materials: The Food Service Ware Procurement Guideline provides the specific requirements for fees and single use items.
Buy in bulk or ask your caterer to provide bulk items such as milk, sugar, honey, juice, salt, pepper, ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, jam, cream cheese and butter, rather than individually packaged items. See our Climate-Friendly Food Systems tips for more about how to support UBC climate action through your food purchasing choices.
Bring Your Own Mug/Cup/Plate: Ask event-goers to bring their own mug/cup, plate/container and cutlery. Add this request to all event communications.
Tap water: avoid bottled water whenever possible. Serve jugs of tap water or for large events. Ask event attendees to bring their own bottle or mug.
Juice and pop: If providing juice and soda, aim for drinks in returnable or recyclable bottles or cans; avoid juice boxes with plastic straws – the straws and straw wrappers are not recyclable.
Cutlery: order reusable cutlery whenever possible. If this is not feasible, the best practice for events at UBC is to use compostable wood or bamboo cutlery, which can be put in green Food Scraps bins. Also acceptable is to buy plastic cutlery with a recycling symbol numbered 1 - 7, which can be recycled in grey Recyclable Container bins. After years of testing and monitoring, biodegradable or compostable plastic cutlery does not properly break down in UBC’s organics program and we ask event planners to avoid purchasing them.
Event bin standards: UBC is phasing out all stand-alone garbage cans and installing multi-bin recycling stations across campus. To reflect this standard, event organizers should budget for, order, and group a set of 4 bins together in the following arrangement from left to right: Food Scraps, Recyclable Containers, Paper and Garbage.
Eliminate garbage bins if possible: If you expect your event will only generate food scraps and/or recyclable materials, please do not order garbage bins. For events that will generate no recyclable paper/cardboard or food scraps, these bins may not be necessary.
Number of bins: UBC recommends ordering one multi-bin recycling station per 400 – 500 event attendees. However, the number of stations will vary depending on the event type and length. Ideally events will have one volunteer staffed at each set of bins to help attendees properly sort. See “Recruit Volunteers” for more information.
Requesting bins: Recycling, food scraps and garbage bins should be requested from UBC Building Operations using Planon. There is normally a cost for delivery and pickup that will be billed directly to the associated unit account. If organizers do not have Planon access or run into issues, for indoor events they may contact the Facilities Manager for the building hosting the event. Otherwise, the Service Centre can be contacted at 604-822-2173. When booking an outdoor event through Campus and Community Planning, the Film & Events Office will be able to assist with the booking of waste sorting bins. Start by filing an online application for your outdoor event, which can be found here.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for any other inquiries such as event waste reduction, bin ordering and placement and volunteer recruitment strategies.
Download signage: Standard recycling bin signage is available for download here. Organizers may also augment this with additional signage. What goes where information is availableon our sorting guides.
For events with specific kinds of waste, the best option is to make custom signage, which has the names of the items on them or even photos of the items. This makes sorting very simple!
One volunteer per recycling station: volunteers standing next to 4 bin recycling stations at events are crucial to achieve zero waste. Volunteers will help instruct event attendees on what item goes into which bin. Without volunteers, your event bins will be contaminated and much of the event waste will end up in the landfill. Contact email@example.com for advice and support on volunteer recruitment and training. We can help you with a volunteer strategy, send a training package and offer tips for success.
During Your Event
Place 4 bins together as a recycling station: Place the bins together to form recycling stations and in the following order from left to right to encourage and streamline sorting: Food Scraps, Recyclable Containers, Paper and Garbage. Please ensure that there are no stand-alone garbage cans.
Post signage: Clear, simple signage is essential. All bins are signed with stickers but these are not visible when lids are open, so additional signage is recommended. UBC standard signage (obtained via download here) may be placed on the front of bins. Alternatively you may create custom signs that show the specific waste items for your event on each bin to make it very obvious what goes where, or even attach examples of the actual items.
Ensure volunteers are staffed at each zero waste station and do an orientation to remind volunteers what goes where before their shift starts. These zero waste ambassadors will help event attendees sort their waste properly. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for advice and support on volunteer recruitment and training.
After Your Event
Emailing Your Feedback
Please tell us what worked at your event and what could be improved – zero waste events are a key priority in UBC’s Zero Waste Action Plan and we want to continuously improve. Please send your feedback and ideas to email@example.com
Additional Green Event Planning Tips
- Check out our comprehensive guide for how to purchase foods and reduce food waste in support of climate-friendly food systems at UBC.
- Refer to UBC's Sustainable Purchasing Guide for more recommendations on Food, Beverages and Catering.
- For guidelines on food and beverage containers, refer to UBC Food Service Ware Procurement Guidelines.
- Choose a site that is accessible by public transit, bicycle or foot.
- Consider using BEST’s Bike Valet service.
- Consider hosting a virtual or hybrid event to avoid or reduce the need for attendees to travel.
- Follow our Business Travel tips for flights, hotels, and transportation to reduce your footprint.
- Use online marketing and promotion.
- Go paperless – send electronic copies of agendas and power points to delegates before and/or after the event.
- For unavoidable printing, print double sided and on FSC certified and post-consumer recycled paper.
- Minimize swag – choose giveaways that are useful, locally and ethically produced, and minimally packaged.
- Communicate sustainability efforts before, during and after the event.
- After your event, evaluate successes and opportunities for improvement.
Have questions, comments, or a zero waste event success story? Email us at UBC Zero Waste Events.