Zero Waste Events – The Future of Catering

Zero Waste Events – The Future of Catering

The University of Pennsylvania Graduation 2012, our first large scale zero waste event.

Last December we were contacted by one of our long standing clients with a very unique request.  Can you provide a ‘zero waste’ event for our graduation reception of 1200 guests?  “…..Sure, let me look into it and I will get back to you”.  I have to admit, I had no real idea what it was or how on earth we could do it for 1200 people at our premier annual event.  So I got to work researching ‘zero waste’ events.  There is no universal definition for what precisely a ‘zero waste’ event is. For our purposes, we defined it as an event where there is little or no ‘Landfill’ waste.   All waste is either recycled or composted.

The more we thought about it and planned, the more we realized…this is not hard at all.   What was our plan?   Simple – we will compost everything.  We planned to bring everything compostable – plates, utensils, napkins, cups and food scraps.  All of it can go into one receptacle and taken away after the event by our good friends from Philly Compost (  Philly Compost is a great local small company that collects compostable waste.  They deliver the compostable waste to my old college buddy, Ned Foley, who owns and runs a local professional composting facility – Two Particular Acres (,  After a couple of months of composting, the waste for this event will make its way back into the soil of our local farmers.  Sounds like a win-win situation.

 Ned Foley from Two Particular Acres testing a compost pile.

Philly Compost Truck

Let’s get everyone on board…

We needed every guest at the event to be aware; this is a ‘Zero Waste Event’.  We felt that if everyone was aware, they would view it as positively as we did, and want to make the event a huge success.  Event organizers made announcements during the graduation ceremony and well as printing reminders in the programs.  Our plan was to clearly mark each receptacle to help guests with the placement of their waste.  We would also provide signage on the buffet reminding guests that it is a ’zero waste’ event and where to place waste when they are done.  Because the event space was essentially public space, we needed to provide recycling and landfill receptacles so that any outside waste would not end up contaminating the compost.  Contaminated compost ends up as landfill waste – not good.   With everything clearly labeled – what could go wrong?

Receptacles for landfill, recycling, and compost.

Compostable everything! Plates, bowls, napkins, cups and utensils.

Buffet ready to go, with signage for guests.

Wait a minute, let me think……

Unlike much of the world, we Americans rarely have to think about our waste.  We generally throw everything into the same receptacle – which goes to a landfill.  In observing guests at the event, we noticed that when they were unsure what to do when faced with this choice.  Many were just frozen with indecision and ultimately tossed it in the landfill trash.  With extra personnel placed near these waste stations we assisted many with choosing the correct receptacle.  By the end of the event we had collected sixty 40 gallon trash bags of compostable waste – saved from the landfill – a great success for the environment.  The conclusion we came to is that this is a learning process.  The only way for people to become more knowledgeable about waste decisions is for large organizations and institutions to be committed to holding more of these types of events – and vendors who are capable of executing it.  Over time people’s waste choices will be second nature.  So Philadelphia catering is prepared for the future of catering and we look forward to more and more environmentally friendly events.


Landfill and compost receptacles with instructions… guest awareness is the key to success!