A Zero Waste Picnic for WashU IT Employees

On July 19, the WashU Information Technology hosted a picnic in Forest Park celebrating the dog days of summer. The event featured hot dogs, real dogs, and…waste stations! By planning ahead to sorting waste and enlist the help of “Recycling On the Go”, a program led by the local non-profit St. Louis Earth Day, and summer interns from the Office of Sustainability, lunch for 300 created only a small amount of waste. 

Several waste stations were set up for the occasion, offering demonstration and education tables. Attendees were invited to bring their lunch waste to the table where they were challenged to sort it into the correct tubs: recycling, compostables and landfill.

Facing a three-stream waste station can be intimidating, and questioning which things go in which bins happens to the best of us! This is why the waste stations are run by dedicated staff members and volunteers that offer their knowledge and help in the process of sorting. According to Bob Henkel, Recycling on the Go Program Director, “Most often, the attendee is surprised by how much of their waste does NOT have to go to the landfill.” By the end of the picnic, WashU employees had the opportunity to engage with people about what they were throwing away, gaining some valuable knowledge that they will surely take home with them.

In choosing to organize waste stations run by recycling ambassadors and sustainability interns, WashU IT achieved an 86% diversion rate, keeping 60 pounds of recycling and organics from going to landfill areas! This significant achievement can also be attributed to the cooperation of the food vendors, who committed to the use of mostly compostable and recyclable containers and utensils.

Despite the success of the waste diversion effort, there were still some lessons learned. Tiffany Heineman, the event coordinator who was determined to make this a zero waste event, reflected that one of the vendors said they would bring compostable cutlery, but they did not. The shaved ice vendor also brought cups that were not compostable. Looking back on the planning process, she emphasizes the need to work closely with the food vendors to make sure they understand your goals and also understand the specific material requirements. All in all, she said, “The response from attendees was very positive. The set-up was excellent and the students were wonderful. Many people were engaged and asked them questions.”

Are you interested in pursuing a zero waste event? Check out resources for planning at the Office of Sustainability website. You can reserve compost collection containers here or waste stations here. The Office of Sustainability is compiling a list of caterers and food vendors who pledge to support zero waste efforts at WashU. Look for the list in a newsletter this semester!