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!  

Quick Links

Zero Waste Party Pack
Special Events
Holidays and Parties
Business Lunches, Meetings and Conferences
Food Service Ware

Zero Waste Party Pack

Borrow a Free Party Pack for Your Next Event

Zero Waste Party Packs are a set of reusable dishware, utensils, and napkins you can borrow to host a great indoor or outdoor party. They are FREE and available for residents to borrow.

Contact a Zero Waste Block Leader To Borrow A Party Pack

You can borrow a party pack from a Zero Waste Block Leader near you. Most block leaders have party packs available for you to borrow. If they don't, they'll get you in touch with a block leader who does. Click here to find the Zero Waste Block Leader near you. 

Zero Waste Party Pack Contents

Each party pack includes 24 place settings. Dishware is in 3 colors - green, red, and blue.  

Best Practices - To Help You Host A Zero Waste Event

Check out our Best Practices Guide with set up tips to help you have a Zero Waste event.

Make sure party attendees know where to return their items.

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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:
Zero Waste Event Guidelines
City Permit Application  - link to the City's Special Event Permit Application
Event Signage
Ordering Waste Collection Services for Events
GreenWaste of Palo Alto Can Help


Zero Waste Event Guidelines

The City of Palo Alto has the goal of Zero Waste (no waste burned or buried) by 2021. In an effort to achieve this goal, the City requires that all special events practice waste reduction, reuse, recycling, and composting measures. 

These guidelines were created to help event organizers plan a Zero Waste event and comply with the City’s Recycling and Composting Ordinance. Click here to download these guidelines.


Waste Collection Service

The City requires that you:

  1. Provide recycle, compost and garbage service sufficient to contain the waste generated by your event;
  2. Provide waste stations in convenient locations to facilitate the source separation of recycle, compost, and garbage by event employees, vendors, and attendees. A waste station is a set of three (3) 64-gallon wheeled carts provided by the City’s waste contractor where one (1) is blue and is for recycle, one (1) is green and is for compost and one (1) is black and is for garbage. The three carts that comprise a waste station must be placed out together as a set with signage for event attendee use.

Ordering Service
To order garbage, recycle and compost collection service, contact GreenWaste of Palo Alto at 650-493-4894.

GreenWaste Can Help
GreenWaste Environmental Outreach Coordinators (EOCs) are available to assist you, at no additional cost. Assistance includes:

  • Establishing appropriate service levels;
  • Zero Waste planning for special events; and
  • Education: on-site trainings and meetings, posters and stickers.

Note: Some events may choose to use their own containers for event attendee use instead of the 64 gallon wheeled carts supplied by GreenWaste of Palo Alto. Alternate containers are acceptable as long as waste stations (three color-coded containers placed together: one for recycle, one for compost and one for garbage) are out for attendee and vendor use, they have proper signage and the number of stations are sufficient to contain the waste generated by the event.



  • Let attendees know about your greening efforts in advance and include the information in announcements to attendees
      • Ask attendees to recycle and compost (describe bins and sample items)
      • Thank attendees for bringing their own refillable water containers, coffee mugs, cloth napkins, etc.
  • Explain the City of Palo Alto’s Zero Waste goal and requirements to all your vendors/display table participants. Below is sample language for vendor/participant agreements.
  • Do not provide pre-packaged goodie bags. Let attendees pick up materials they are interested in, instead of providing materials they may not want.
  • Limit the number of handouts and make materials available online 
      • If you do have handouts and brochures, use ones 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
  • Reuse existing signs whenever possible. If you need new signs, 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 if possible and recycle them when finished. If paper will not work, print banners on cloth instead of vinyl.
      • Print signs on paper core instead of foam core. Foam core cannot be recycled but paper core can.
  • Do not use plastic bags, disposable decorations, or balloons.
  • Limit promotional items to useful, durable items.
  • Promotional items shall not be individually wrapped (reducing packaging).
  • Limit single-serving water bottles. *City sponsored events are prohibited from using them.
  • Provide condiments (sugars, ketchup, mustard, salad dressings, etc.) in bulk instead of in individual packages and servings
  • Sell items in reusable, recyclable or compostable food service ware, containers, and packaging. A complete list of acceptable recyclable and compostable materials is available at http://www.greenwasteofpaloalto.com/sites/greenwasteofpaloalto.com/files/2015%20Detailed%20Material%20Guide.pdf
  • Use compostable utensils if utensils are necessary.
  • Consider selling foods that do not require utensils (e.g., sandwiches, fries, kabobs, egg rolls).
  • Arrange 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.


Waste Logistics

  • If vendor booths are set up with garbage containers, they must also be equipped with recycle and compost containers.
  • Create a central waste collection area(s) with clearly labeled bins 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 waste stations 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).
  • Remove or cover all public litter cans throughout event area so they can’t be used.


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
  • Use appropriate signage on all waste station containers. Posters are provided by GreenWaste of Palo Alto if you order Special Event service. They are also available to download (see Event Signage section below) or by calling GreenWaste at (650) 493-4894.
  • For consistency, use the same signs for each container type at each station.


Waste Station Monitoring

Arrange 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. For more information regarding costs and how Downtown Streets Team might be able to help please contact (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.

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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

You will automatically receive these signs when you order Special Event collection service from GreenWaste of Palo Alto.

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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. You can also borrow a Zero Waste Party Pack 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. Residents can borrow a Zero Waste Party Pack. 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: Apr 12, 2017