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Green Events Guide

What is a Green Event?

Green events reduce resource use, reuse what is possible, and recycle or compost 90% of the event’s waste. A green event organizer emphasizes resource stewardship and sustainable practices. Green events make a difference to environmental and organizational value, and demonstrate how gatherings can be held sustainably.

Why a Green Event?

In 2013, Americans sent 254 million tons of trash in total and only 87 million tons of this material are recycled and composted. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that the 87 million tons of recycled and composted materials prevented the release of approximately 186 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent into the air in 2013, which is equivalent to taking over 39 million cars off the road for a year.

Food and packaging/containers account for almost 45% of landfilled materials. Most of the waste materials sent to the landfill can be re-utilized by recycling, reusing, or composting, which can reduce greenhouse gases generated, decrease environmental impacts, reduce health and odor concerns with food disposal and more for our future generations. Buying in bulk means you are using less packaging and fewer delivery miles, so less fuel is used and fewer pollutants are emitted into the air. It also means it’s economically friendlier!

Planning is the most important phase in greening an event and reducing resource use. These are a few considerations for your planning committee. Determining your event format and message is crucial!

Steps for planning for a greener event.
  • Use digital media where possible, and printed media strategically. 
  • Print on recycled content or FSC Certified paper. 
Consider Your Energy Use
  • Hold your event outdoors, in LEED-certified buildings, or pull up the shades and use natural light if appropriate.
  • Be comfortable with room temperatures tracking with the seasons. Preferably a sweater would be a winter item and not a summer necessity.
  • Encourage your guests to carpool and use alternative transportation such as biking, walking, or public transit. 
  • If attendees and speakers are traveling great distances, encourage them to offset their greenhouse gas emissions, or explore how you may do this for the event (if your funding type allows).
Events with Activities

For events with activities consider the following options (semester dependent)

  • KelRae Farm visits
  • Yoga sessions
  • Nature and tree/plant ID walks
  • Bird Club walk
  • Bike Alliance rides
  • Greenhouse tours
  • Hydroponic wall tours
  • VIMS tours
Giveaways and Swags
  • Avoid giveaways that will produce waste or become waste, particularly plastics.
  • Consider the distance the items will be shipped, what they are made of, and how those that are making them are compensated. Give preference to items that are sustainably produced by those receiving appropriate compensation.
  • Think about what your audience will actually use/need and what type of lifestyle your item will promote.

Food is a major part of an event. Consider your food selection, food recovery, catering, and communications as you plan for your event!

Steps for food selection, food recovery, catering and communication.
Food Selection
  • Consider the type and variety of food you will serve, as well as the distance it must travel. These factors contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, resources use, and nutritional value. 
    • Ask your caterer for local and seasonal options. 
    • Consider serving vegan and vegetarian options, or going light on the meat. 
    • Explore whole grains and less-processed foods. 
    • W&M Catering provides local, sustainable, vegan/vegetarian options. Contact the catering office for up-to-date trends and customizable menus.
  • Contact the campus dietitian, Stephanie at [[smmay]], if you are interested in learning more about the food you serve.
Food Recovery
  • Avoid over-ordering and purchasing.
  • For large events, express your interest in food recovery options with your catering provider as early as possible.
    • Catering providers must store unserved food properly before, during and after an event for it to be eligible for recovery.
    • Catering providers will often require recovery groups to sign waivers.
  • Food that has been served is not safe or acceptable for most recovery programs.
  • Consider connecting with the student organization, W&M Food Recovery Network to find local non-profits willing and able to collect safely stored, unserved food from your event. 
  • Food already served? Set up with students in advance to share on social media that there is free food available for a short period after the event. Hungry students nearby will swing in to grab a bite on the go. 
Catering and Communications

Express your interest in green options with your caterer from the beginning, at least two weeks in advance. Early notice provides them time to determine if they are able to make the event greener or if there will be any additional cost. 

  • W&M Catering offers the following:
    • An emphasis on local and sustainable food
    • Chef crafted vegan and vegetarian options
    • Compostable service ware, plates, bowls, and cups
    • Compost bins
    • Signs labeling the compost bins and informational table signs
    • Drink station with coolers/pitchers/thermos
    • Consultation on reduced waste serving, such as buffet-style
    • Elimination of single-use plastics
  • Off-campus catering providers
    • Notify your caterer that you want to opt-out of single-use items.
    • Notify your caterer that you do not want any single-serve packets.
    • Specify the type of service ware you would like to use.
    • For a list of local green caterers, try using America to Go
  • America to Go
    • If purchasing through America to Go, please use the sustainability filters to help determine what options are available through local restaurants.

One small change can lead to a huge difference. Think about decoration, service ware, waste station plans, and what bins you are using. 

Steps to eliminate single-use items, determine serviceware needs, waste station plan, and recycling/waste bins.
Eliminate Single-Use Items
  • Evaluate your decorations, table coverings, trays, service ware, and giveaways for the event. Purchase materials that can be reused or composted.
  • Serve in bulk or compostables:
    • Foil-wrapped butter, individually wrapped utensils, plastic coffee stirrers, and others.
    • Ketchup, salt and pepper, salad dressings, and etc. Plastic packets are not recyclable or compostable and can contaminate the compost and recycling.
Determine Your Serviceware Needs
  • Consider the service ware and decorations you will need and determine whether you will use reusable, compostable or recyclable service ware.
    • Reusable service ware produces the least waste.
    • If the event format permits, encourage your attendees to bring their own utensils, water bottles, etc. 
    • Compostable service ware is a good option, but be sure your event will support composting. Compostables in the landfill become contaminated and do not provide the same benefits as composting. 
    • If you choose recyclable service ware, it must be clean of food waste before it can be recycled. 
  • Avoid using materials made up of styrofoam/polystyrene, as it is a landfill item. 
Waste Station Plan

Know what you want to accept at your waste station. If you will be composting, consider having your station manned by trained volunteers or staff. 

  • Campus bin liners
    • Black bag = trash
    • Clear bag = recycling
    • Green biodegradable bag = compostables
  • Volunteers
    • Most of your event participants might not be familiar with composting. Man the compost bins to help prevent contamination, especially if there will be recycling and waste bin options. 
    • Provide basic training prior to the event so volunteers are familiar with the process.
    • Purchase compostable gloves in case they have to handle food waste.
    • Dining Sustainability Interns at for guidance on compostable training for your volunteers and possible volunteers to monitor bins.
Recycling and Waste Bins

W&M is a mixed recycling campus, all recyclables go into one bin and are sorted at the recycling facility. 

  • Recycling containers for outdoor events can be reserved through Facilities Management, Work Control. Place a work order or contact Work Control directly for containers.
  • Most indoor locations already have recycling containers, although this should be confirmed during the site visit.
  • Recycling containers for indoor events should be reserved through the building’s event coordinator.

W&M was one of the first Va universities to institute a dining hall composting program! Compostables are collected from the campus by Natural Organic Processes Enterprise (NOPE), and taken to an industrial facility in Waverly, Va. Compost is returned to the campus and KelRae Farm, through which W&M Dining maintains a row-share. 

What can and cannot be composted, composting locations and options, composting event formats and purchasing compostable items.
What CAN and CANNOT be composted?

Unlike at-home composting, industrial composting allows W&M to accept all food and many compostable items.

What CAN be composted?

What CANNOT be composted?

  • ALL food waste (including meats, bones and dairy)
  • Napkins and paper towels
  • Compostable plates, cups, and utensils
  • Wooden coffee stirrer
  • Tea bags (but not the packet)
  • Coffee grinds
  • Sugar packets
  • Pizza boxes
  • Plastics (recyclable if clean) 
  • Foil (recyclable if clean)
  • Wax-line cartons (recyclable if clean)
  • Wax-lined paper cups
  • Single-serve condiment packets (ketchup, dressing or sauce packets)
  • Plastic bags/wrap
  • Tea bag packets
Composting Locations and Options
  • The public compost bin is located between the Sadler Center and Wellness Center, near the waste and recycling dumpsters. This accepts any compostable items and food, loose or in a compostable bag.
  • W&M Catering offers composting services for their events. 
  • All W&M dining halls compost pre- and post-consumer food waste behind the scenes.
Composting Event Formats
  • Sit-Down Meals & Reusable Serviceware
    • Composting for food can be added to W&M Catering events. 
    • If present, serving staff can scrape plates into compost bins.
  • Self-Serve Meals & Compostable Serviceware: 
    • Make it easy. Ask people to sort as little as possible. Compost bins contaminated with non-compostables must be landfilled. 
    • Reduce waste and confusion by eliminating/reducing non-compostable items such as individual creamers, ketchup packets, chip bags, plastic/wax paper wrapping, and so on. Ideally, everything being discarded should be compostable. 
    • Provide compostable plates, cups, and service ware. Line bins with compostable bags.
    • Post signage and make announcements so attendees are aware of what goes where.
    • If through W&M catering, staff will properly deposit the compost collection. 
    • If not through W&M catering, you may deposit the compost collection in the bin located between Sadler Center and the Wellness Center.
Purchasing compostable items
  • Compostable bags
    • Request compostable bags from W&M Catering when you order food from W&M Catering.
    • Request composting bags and materials from the Center for Community Development (CCD) if you are hosting a residential life event. Compostable bags can also be purchased online.
  • OfficeMax, Amazon or Eco-Products have compostable materials that are BPI (Biodegradable Products Institute) certified. 

Clear directions and information are important for a successful green event. Make sure to put up enough signs to direct your event participants to the right waste stations and information on what can and cannot be recycled or composted. 

Signages to display at the event
Where to post signs?

  • Post signs at the bins to clarify what is accepted.
  • Post signs on the table to remind guests of the compostable products and/or sustainable food.
Downloadable Graphics

Right click on the image and "Save As." As simple as that!

This event uses compostable cutlery!


Preparation can be tedious but we got you covered! Here's a day-of-checklist to help you run through everything again. 

Download Day-Of Checklist

We would love to highlight your office/department/organization for participating in our effort for a greener campus! If you have used our Green-Your-Event Guide and want to be featured on our social media platforms and webpage, fill out this form. 

Get Featured!