Featured Food School of Medicine Waste

Employee Picnic Achieves Zero Waste

img_2070On Friday September 30, the Washington University School of Medicine (WUSM) celebrated its employees by hosting its annual Employee Picnic. Beginning at 11a, thousands of employees started lining up to enjoy BBQ from Kendrick’s Meats and Catering, Ted Drewes custard, and a variety of carnival games for prizes.

Since 2013, the Office of Sustainability has worked with the picnic planning committee to encourage sustainable elements of the event, particularly sourcing compostable serviceware and coordinating a volunteer effort to collect and sort the event waste. Over time, most employees have come to understand the sorting system and seek out the blue sustainability tents when they are ready to dispose of their waste. And for those who are still learning or are new to the effort, our volunteers were there to help them through the process.

A critical component to hosting a zero waste event is to work with vendors to ensure that 100% of the materials handed out at the event are either compostable or recyclable. For example, when collecting compost, it is most simple for attendees and volunteers alike if everything (plates, cutlery, food, etc.) can be composted. People are often surprised when they learn that their fork is made out of a compostable plastic or that they can compost meat (not recommended for backyard composting but fine for an industrial compost system). But when you can control all of these items, “sorting” becomes simple.

Because of these coordinated efforts, this year’s picnic achieved a stunning diversion rate of 99% of attendee waste. The only landfill items from the crowd of 8,000+ were a handful of ketchup packets that were offered with the veggie burgers (the BBQ sauce was served in bulk, eliminating single serving packets).

Such high rates of compost and recycling are made possible by the diligence of the planning committee, the participation of the vendors, and the dedication of the volunteers sorting the waste during the event. A big KUDOS to all of our partners – because of you, 2224 lbs. of recycling and 1425 lbs. of compost were kept out of landfills!