Skip to content
Home > Reduce & Reuse > Zero Waste Events

Plan a Zero Waste Event

Events represent one of the largest sources of waste. With proper planning and collection, however, the amount of waste going to the landfill can be greatly minimized.

This section provides general guidelines for planning zero waste events in Santa Barbara County. Please contact your local jurisdiction to learn about applicable requirements and available resources. Also, ensure that specific goals and requirements for your event are incorporated into the agreements with your vendors.

Special Events

Many special events require a permit from the jurisdiction where the event will take place. Contact the jurisdiction where your event will be held to determine the applicable requirements and fees. For the unincorporated areas of Santa Barbara County, click here.

Cooperation from Vendors

Meet with your vendors prior to the event and advise them of your requirements in terms of preventing and minimizing waste and the goal of striving for zero waste.

  • If the jurisdiction in which you are in has specific requirements associated with waste management, ensure that those requirements are included in any agreement with a vendor. 

Sample language for use in a vendor agreement:  "Jurisdiction X has a goal of achieving zero waste (i.e. no waste to landfills) by [insert year].  In an effort to achieve this goal, Jurisdiction X requires that all special events strive to eliminate all waste through waste reduction, reuse, recycling, and composting measures."

  • Require the event coordinator to have recycling, composting, and trash containers available to vendors and attendees and coordinate with the applicable franchise waste hauler to service those containers.
  • Require vendors to sell items in reusable, recyclable, or compostable containers and to use compostable utensils, if utensils are necessary.

Sample language for use in a vendor agreement:  "Vendors are required to use reusable, recyclable, or compostable food service ware, containers, and packaging."

  • Ask vendors to consider offering food that does not need utensils.

Sample language for use in a vendor agreement:  "Vendors shall consider selling foods that do not require utensils (e.g. sandwiches, pizza, wraps, fries, kabobs, sushi, eggs rolls)." 

  • Require vendors to provide drinks (e.g. water, soda, coffee, tea) and condiments (e.g. sugar, ketchup, mustard, salad dressings, etc.) in bulk.  Alternatively, for beverages, offer them in recyclable bottles and cans.

Sample language for use in a vendor agreement:  "Vendors are required to provide drinks (e.g. water, soda, coffee, tea) in bulk or in recyclable bottles and cans.  Vendors are also required to provide condiments (e.g. sugar, ketchup, mustard, salad dressings, etc.) in bulk."

  • Ask/require vendors not to use plastic bags, disposable decorations, balloons or polystyrene or to provide giveaway items.  If giveaways are offered, prohibit items from being individually wrapped.  Ask the vendors to limit the packaging of the materials to minimize waste.

Sample language for use in a vendor agreement:  "Vendors shall consider not using plastic bags, disposable decorations, balloons, or polystyrene or to provide giveaway items.  If giveaway items are offered, they shall not be individually wrapped."

  • Offer resources of suppliers that provide recyclable and compostable packaging.
  • Consider renting equipment, such as tablecloths and utensils, rather than using single-use disposable items.
  • If reusable items are not available, use compostable plates and cutlery.

Waste Collection Services

The majority of the waste at events tends to be organic and therefore, theoretically, can be composted.

  • In the South Coast unincorporated areas of Santa Barbara County, contact the franchise waste hauler, MarBorg Industries (963-1852) to arrange for the collection of trash and recyclables.  For food collection, contact MarBorg Industries or Engel and Gray, a commercial composter, to determine if the food waste can be collected for composting.
  • In the North County unincorporated areas of Santa Barbara County, contact the franchise waste hauler, Waste Management (922-2121) to arrange for the collection of trash and recyclables.  For food collection, contact Engel and Gray (866) 925-2771 or (805) 925-2771 to determine if the food waste can be collected for composting.
  • Donate excess food to local food banks, homeless shelters, and soup kitchens.

Acceptable Types of Recyclables

  • Metal cans
  • Cardboard
  • Glass containers
  • Paper (e.g. mixed paper, newspaper, magazines)
  • Paperboard
  • Hard plastics with a #1 or #2 recycling code

Acceptable Types of Compostable Materials

  • Food scraps (e.g. fruit, vegetables, bread, grains, meat, fish, dairy products, pasta, coffee grounds, tea bags)
  • Food soiled paper (e.g. waxed cardboard, paper towels, paper napkins, paper cups, and paper plates)
  • Biodegradable plastics (e.g. utensils, cups, and bags) 

Site Planning

Prepare a site map to identify the locations where recycling/composting containers should be placed, as well as the central waste collection area.  The recycling/composting containers should be:

  • Accessible and conveniently located (next to trash containers).
  • Located near food and eating areas.
  • Near entrances and exits.
  • In areas with high volumes of traffic.
  • Have a central waste collection area for vendors and event staff members to deposit waste, recyclable, and compostable materials.


Ensure that there are sufficient signs to reinforce the need for attendees to recycle.

  • Use pictures to show the acceptable types of materials to be placed in each container.
  • Use clear and simple wording.
  • Place signs where they are easily visible.
  • Print banners or signs without dates, if feasible, so they can be reused in subsequent years.
  • If a banner will only be used once, print it on paper and recycle it after the event.


To greatly reduce contamination and increase the amount of materials that are recycled, have volunteers by the recycling and composting containers to:

  • Ensure that attendees place the correct types of materials into each type of container and
  • Answer questions.  

Education and Outreach

Efforts to educate prospective attendees and actual attendees regarding the zero-waste event can be an effective marketing and promotional tool.  The following methods should be considered:

  • Prominently display reusable posters and signs regarding the types of materials that can be recycled.
  • Show the event program on monitors rather than printing hard copies.
  • Provide information about zero waste efforts on invitations.  Consider using electronic invitations rather than mailing hard copy invitations.
  • Prior to the event, encourage attendees to bring their own reusable water containers, coffee mugs, cloth napkins, etc.  During the event, thank those attendees that complied with the request.
  • Ensure that handouts and brochures are printed in a sustainable manner:
    --Use 100 percent recycled-content paper
    --Print double-sided
    --Use soy-based inks
    --Limit the number of handouts and make materials available on-line.
  • Include information on the goal of zero waste for the event in media releases.
  • Run public service announcements on radio and television stations.
  • Make periodic announcements during the event about the goal of having a zero waste event.

Decorations and Giveaways

  • Consider renting decorative items.
  • Ensure that items purchased are reusable, recyclable, or compostable.
  • Instead of providing pre-filled goodie bags, allow participants to select only items that they want.

Meetings and Conferences

Meetings and conferences potentially represent major sources of waste and pollution.  The following areas should be addressed when trying to prevent or minimize waste and pollution:

  • Location

  • Accommodations

  • Transportation

  • Food and Beverage

  • Meeting Facilities

  • Exhibition Halls

  • General Office Practices and Communications

To learn about the issues to consider in each of these areas, consult the United States Environmental Protection Agency's (USEPA) guide to Greening Your Meetings and Conferences.

For additional information and resources for meeting planners and suppliers of meeting services, visit the USEPA's Green Conference Initiative website

Food Service Ware Options

Reusable food service products represent the best option to prevent waste. Ideally, organizations should have reusable dishware, cups, and silverware available in their lunch and break rooms. If reusable products are not an option, then food service ware that is recyclable or compostable should be used. 

Here are some resources where recyclable and compostable food service products may be purchased:

Smart & Final
217 East Gutierrez Street
Santa Barbara 93101
(805) 564-8855
(Sells paper towels and plastic cups containing recycled-content.)

Smart & Final
1721 South Broadway
Santa Maria, CA 93454
(805) 925-6730
(Sells paper towels and plastic cups containing recycled-content.)

Eco Products, Inc.
4755 Walnut Street
Boulder, CO 80301
(866) 402-1831, extension 2 or (303) 449-1876
(Offers a variety of compostable food service products such as hot and cold cups and lids, plates and bowls, and napkins)

World Centric
2121 Staunton Court
Palo Alto, CA 94306
(650) 283-3797
(Makes a variety of food service and food packaging commercially compostable products comprised of corn, sugar cane, and wheat straw fiber)

For a complete listing of companies that offer recycled-content and other sustainable products, view our Recycling Resource Guide for Santa Barbara County.

You can also find a listing of consultants who specialize in zero waste event planning in our "Where to Go" section below.


Where to go