The Global Institute for Sustainable Forestry hosts a number of food-providing events throughout the year, ranging from our weekly Yale Forest Forum Leadership Seminar lunch series, to anything from an informal “coffee break” for half a dozen people, a lunch for 30, a dinner for 50 or a reception for 200 – sometimes all of the above within the same week. In accordance with our goals, and those of FES, it has been our policy since the beginning to try to minimize waste, to recycle as much as possible, and compost when we can. Doing so has required a certain amount of experimentation in figuring out the procedures that worked best not only for our lunches held in Marsh Hall, but realizing that different buildings in the department require different strategies, and in some cases waiting for the university to catch up providing the means for reducing or recycling waste. Unquestionably the single major point learned in the course of putting on many events over the years is that reducing waste requires as much advance planning as any other aspect of organizing an event. If you are only beginning to think about what to do with waste on the day of the event – or at the event itself – it is too late.
Some of our strategies for reducing waste include having reusable dishware. We have a supply of hard plastic plates and cups, metal cutlery and ceramic coffee cups and we use thse in our own building, where we have a kitchen and they can be washed. The small amount of food waste that is generated is taken over to Kroon Hall where there are constant composting containers. We buy large bottles of juice in advance and put those out with water pitchers, so that we aren’t producing many small empty beverage containers. If we are holding an event elsewhere than Marsh Hall, we use compostable plates, cutlery etc., and when necessary make a request for a compost pickup from facilities. We have been using mostly the same vendors for years, so they know not to bring plates etc., but I make a point of reminding them, and I have my own backup supply of compostables. Thanks to Yale's single stream recycling, we can now recycle the various trays and bowls that food arrives on. Announcements to the participants that the event is low-waste and about how waste should be distributed, and LARGE signs over the appropriate bins - preferably with pictures - are obligatory of course. However, there will unquestionably be mix-ups in where items get left.
A handy trick for making sure food doesn't go to waste in any sense of the word is to have empty food containers around. That way, if there are leftovers, you can often send them home with students.
Another key requirement to having a low-waste event is having someone onboard willing to get their hands dirty - literally. To use reuseable dishes, and to recycle aluminum or plastic food containers someone needs to wash them. And at any event, no matter how often it is announced to the attendees where to discard what, nor how good the signage is over the bins, nor how vigilant the staff overseeing the waste bins, it can be guaranteed that food waste will get put into the recycling bin, soda cans will get put into the composting, and trash will get put into both. At the end of the day, someone has to be willing to reach in, wearing rubber gloves if need be, and put things where they belong.
One thing that can be said is that the interest and the means to reduce and recycle at Yale events are continuing to improve as people put more attention to what it takes to keep from trashing this planet of ours.