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Last Updated: Sep 30, 2014

Special Events and Party Planning

Whether you’re planning a large public event, a business meeting or an intimate dinner party, with a bit of planning you can make it a Zero Waste function.

This section gives you the information and tools you need to make your event Zero Waste!

Quicklinks

Special Events
Holidays and Parties
Business Lunches, Meetings and Conferences
Food Service Ware



Special Events

Planning for Zero Waste

Holding an event takes a lot of planning. Zero waste considerations should be integrated into the earliest stages of event planning in order to create a zero waste event. This section has information on the City’s special event zero waste requirements along with information, tools and resources to help you meet those requirements.

Special Event Information:
City Permit Application
Zero Waste Requirements
Zero Waste Event Guidelines
Event Signage
Waste Collection Services for Events
GreenWaste of Palo Alto Can Help

City Permit Application


Many special events require a permit from the City. Any organized activity involving the use of, or having an impact upon, public property, facilities, public parks, sidewalks, or street areas requires a special event permit. Click here for the Special Event Permit application.

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Zero Waste Requirements

The City of Palo Alto requires that all special events requiring a permit practice zero waste through waste reduction, reuse, recycling and composting measures.

The City of Palo Alto requires you and your vendors to adhere to the following requirements:
  • Require event coordinator to have recycling, composting and garbage service available to vendors and attendees.
  • Require event coordinator to set out waste stations for event attendees. No individual containers are allowed. A waste station is a set of three containers of which one (1) is blue and is for recycling, one (1) is green and is for compostables and one (1) is black and is for garbage. The three containers that comprise a waste station must be placed out together as a set with signage for event attendee use.
  • Require vendors to sell items in reusable, recyclable or compostable containers.
  • Require vendors to provide drinks and condiments (sugars, ketchup, mustard, salad dressings, etc.) in bulk instead of in individual packages and servings
  • Ask/Require vendors to consider foods that do not need utensils
  • Require vendors to use only compostable utensils if utensils are necessary (e.g., corn starch based)
  • Require vendors not to use: single use merchandise bags and expanded polystyrene containers (aka StyrofoamTM)
  • Ask/Require vendors not to use disposable decorations, balloons, polystyrene or to provide giveaway items. Ask them to limit packaging of materials when ordering giveaways to reduce waste.
  • If vendor booths are set up with garbage containers, they must also be equipped with recycling and compostable containers. These must be set up side by side each clearly marked with what items may be placed in each container.
  • Create a central waste collection area(s) for vendors and event staff to consolidate waste materials. Depending on the size of your event you may choose to have multiple consolidation locations
  • Remove or cover all stand alone trash cans throughout event area so they can’t be used.
    Use recycled paper/biodegradable materials in your leaflets, promotion of the event.
  • Consider the use of monitors at all waste stations to assist event attendees in placing items in the proper container.
  • Ask/Require vendors not to use single serving water bottles.

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Zero Waste Event Guidelines

Information and tools to help you plan a Zero Waste event and comply with the City's special event requirements. Click here to download the guidelines.

Vendor Requirements

  • Explain zero waste to vendors.
    • Sample language for vendor agreements: "The City of Palo Alto has a goal of Zero Waste (no waste to landfills) by 2021. In an effort to achieve this goal, the City requires that all special events endeavor to eliminate all waste through waste reduction, reuse, recycling and composting measures."
  • Require vendors to sell items in reusable, recyclable or compostable containers and use compostable utensils if utensils are necessary.
    • Sample language for vendor agreements: "Vendors are required to use reusable, recyclable or compostable food service ware, containers and packaging. Information on accepted recyclable and compostable materials as well as a list of vendors supplying compostable food service ware is available at http://www.zerowastepaloalto.org/."
  • Require vendors to provide drinks and condiments (sugars, ketchup, mustard, salad dressings, etc.) in bulk instead of in individual packages and servings.
    • Sample language for vendor agreements: "Vendors are required to provide condiments (e.g., sugar, ketchup, mustard, salad dressing) in bulk instead of in individual containers."
  • Ask/Require vendors to consider foods that do not need utensils.
    • Sample language for vendor agreements: "Vendors shall consider selling foods that do not require utensils (e.g., sandwiches, fries, kabobs, egg rolls)."
  • Ask/Require vendors not to use plastic bags, disposable decorations, balloons, polystyrene or to provide giveaway items. Ask them to limit packaging of materials when ordering giveaways to reduce waste.
    • Sample language for vendor agreements: "Vendors shall consider not using plastic bags, disposable decorations, balloons or giveaways. All promotional items given away by a vendor shall not be individually wrapped (reducing packaging)."

Waste Logistics

  • If vendor booths are set up with garbage containers, they must also be equipped with recycling and compostables containers.
  • Create a central waste collection area(s) for vendors and event staff to consolidate waste materials. Depending on the size of your event you may choose to have multiple consolidation locations.
  • Create a map showing the locations of the central waste collection area(s) and the locations of the recycling and trash centers for attendees. (This is required as part of the special event permit in the event diagram showing the event’s overall layout.)
  • Supply all vendors with information explaining how and what to recycle and compost, all zero waste requirements, and a map showing the central waste collection area(s).
  • Use appropriate signage on all waste and recycling containers. Posters may also be available from GreenWaste at (650) 493-4894.

Signs for Downloading

Recycle Poster
Compost Poster
Garbage Poster

Waste Station Guidelines

  • Recycling, compostables and garbage containers must be placed directly beside each other.
  • Place containers side-by-side in same order for each station (example: blue, green, black).
  • Place waste stations in visible, high traffic areas that do not conflict with the Fire Marshall’s requirements (i.e., entrances, exits, bathrooms, etc.).
  • If you choose not to use the 64 gallon carts from GreenWaste to collect your waste from event attendees: Use the same container type for all stations to prevent confusion and for outdoor events, secure containers to prevent strong winds from blowing them over
  • Include "what goes where signs," preferably at eye level, on each container for every station.
  • For consistency, use the same signs for each container type at each station.
  • Clearly mark all dumpsters so all event workers and vendors know where to correctly dispose of materials.
  • Remove or cover all stand alone trash cans throughout event area so they can’t be used.

Waste Station Monitoring

Event organizers shall consider arranging to have a person monitor each waste station (during all hours of the event) to assist in educating attendees on what materials go in each container. This will ensure the event is recycling and composting as much as possible.

There are multiple agencies that can assist your event with monitoring waste stations. A local organization is listed below.

The Palo Alto Downtown Streets Team is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization which is a transitional program that teaches participants successful work habits with the goal of re-entering the workforce and building self-esteem. They currently have contracts with the City of Palo Alto to assist with cleanliness and maintenance of the downtown area and soccer fields. For more information regarding costs and how Downtown Streets Team might be able to help please contact Eileen at (650) 897-HELP (4357).

The listing above is an example of a vendor that can assist you with waste station monitoring. It does not it imply endorsement by the City of Palo Alto.

Outreach

Let attendees know about your greening efforts in advance and include the information in announcements to attendees.

  • Ask attendees to recycle (describe bins and sample recyclable items)
  • If using compostable products, display examples and tell them how to properly dispose of the items (hold up actual product examples)
  • Thank attendees for bringing their own refillable water containers, coffee mugs, cloth napkins, etc.

Use handouts and brochures that are printed in a sustainable manner
  • Use 100% post-consumer recycled paper
  • Print on both sides of paper
  • If documents are printed at a print shop, request soy-based inks
  • Limit number of handouts and make materials available online

Reuse existing signs and select signs made from recyclable or reusable materials
  • Print banners or signs without dates, so they can be used year after year
  • If you don’t already have a banner and it will only be used once, print paper banners for indoor events and recycle them when finished
  • Print signs on paper core instead of foam core. Foam core cannot be recycled but paper core can. However, if foam core is used, it can be donated to RAFT for reuse. Please contact RAFT at http://www.raft.net/ for more details.
  • Print banners on cloth instead of vinyl whenever possible

Do not provide pre-packaged goodie bags. Let attendees pick up materials they are interested in instead of providing materials they may not want.

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Event Signage

Signage is key to a zero waste event. You will need signs for vendors and event attendees. Posters are available for your use. You can download posters here, but GreenWaste may also have a supply available for you.

Signs for Downloading

Recycle Poster
Compost Poster
Garbage Poster

Waste Station Signs

There are a limited number of waste station signs available. You will automatically receive these signs when you order collection service from GreenWaste of Palo Alto.



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Waste Collection Services for Events

Garbage, recycling and compostables collection service can be ordered by contacting GreenWaste of Palo Alto at (650) 493-4894.

Accepted Items

The following is a list of typical special event materials that are accepted in Palo Alto’s recycling or composting collection program. Click here for a complete list of acceptable recyclable and compostable materials.

Recycling

  • Metal Cans/Foil
  • Glass Jars and Bottles
  • Plastic Bottles, Cups and Containers
  • Film Plastic (wrap and bags)
  • Paper (e.g., cardboard, mixed paper, newspaper, magazines)

Compostables

  • Food scraps (e.g., vegetables, fruit, grain, meat, fish, dairy products, bread, dough, pasta, grains, coffee grounds and tea bags)
  • Food soiled paper (e.g., waxed cardboard, paper towels, paper napkins, paper cups and paper plates)
  • Yard trimmings (e.g., grass/plant clippings, prunings and flowers)
  • Biodegradable plastics (e.g., utensils, cups and bags)

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GreenWaste of Palo Alto Can Help

GreenWaste of Palo Alto Environmental Outreach Coordinators can assist you, at no additional cost. Assistance includes:
  • Establishing appropriate service levels
  • Planning for special events
  • Education: on-site trainings and meetings, posters and stickers

For assistance contact GreenWaste Customer Service at (650) 493-4894.

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Holidays and Parties

Tips for less wasteful, but every bit as festive celebrations.

Catering in?

  • Choose a caterer who will supply reusable dishes and napkins. Ask the caterer to provide reusable trays that can be returned or have food presented on your own trays or dishes.
  • Ask your caterer to make their dishes using local and organic items.

Doing it yourself?

  • Use your own dishes, cloth napkins and utensils instead of disposables. Or check "Rental Service Stores" in the Yellow Pages or by searching online for a place to rent dishes, napkins, tablecloths and flatware. Many rental agencies deliver. You may even return rinsed dishes and soiled napkins so you don’t have to do the dreaded holiday wash-up.
  • Skip utensils and plates entirely and serve finger food. Purchase enough cloth napkins for the party or rent them from a linen service. Once bought, napkins will be useful for years.

Don't forget to recycle!

Make recycling convenient (set recycling containers next to garbage containers) and be sure your family and friends know where the containers are and what is accepted in each. Signs are available for you to download or you can create your own.

Signs for Downloading

Recycle Sign
Compost Sign
Garbage Sign

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Business Lunches, Meetings and Conferences

Break Out of the Box Lunch As Usual

Making environmental considerations part of planning for business events can make a significant difference in the amount of food, paper and packaging waste generated.

There are many aspects to consider in various types of business events. If your business has an environmental services officer, a "green team," or other designated group which plans for environmental improvements, the checklist is a great tool to let everyone know how well your company is doing. You can then target the changes you want to make in specific areas of event planning as they apply to your business.

Resources that may help:
EPA Greening Your Meetings Guide
California Resource Recovery Association Zero Waste Guidelines used to plan its 2006 Conference

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Food Service Ware Options

Reusable, Recyclable or Compostable? Information on Your Options

Reusable food service products as the first and best option for food service ware. Organizations can stock their lunch and break rooms with reusable and washable dishes, cups, and silverware. With a little planning, special events can be serviced with reusable products as well.

If reusable products are not an option, consider recyclable or compostable service ware instead. While not as environmentally friendly, because recyclable and compostable dishes, cups and cutlery are still meant to be used once and then disposed, recycling or composting them does reduce their impact on our environment.

Consider products that are:

 
Effective April 22, 2010, Palo Alto has an ordinance that restricts food vendors from providing prepared food in disposable food service containers made from expanded polystyrene or non-recyclable plastic. Read the fact sheet on the ordinance.

Special Events / Business Cafeterias
Recyclable or compostable food service ware can be used.

Eat-in Restaurants (most of the food is consumed on site)
Recyclable or compostable food service ware can be used.

Take-Out Restaurant (most of the food is taken off site)
Recyclable food service ware is best for now, because Palo Alto does not yet have a residential compostables collection program,

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Last Updated: May 19, 2014