Zero Waste MIT Events Planning Guide[edit | edit source]

This guide will help members of the MIT community to plan and execute meetings, parties, or other events with a goal of minimizing waste and environmental impact without sacrificing the quality of the event. The guide outlines the most important factors to consider and provides information about local resources available to reduce your event's environmental footprint.

The guide was created through experiential learning in planning MIT's first annual "Zero Waste Party" in conjunction with Earth Day in April of 2006, sponsored through a MIT Graduate Student Life Grant. See Zero Waste Party 2006. This document also draws heavily from other green event planning guides. Updated with further ideas from SfGS Zero Waste Showcase in December 2007.

General Guidelines[edit | edit source]

  • Become conscious and purposeful in every item used for your event
  • Be creative in minimizing waste and environmental impact.
  • Assign leadership roles amongst the event planning committee for working toward a zero waste event.
  • Think about where you can borrow items for reuse instead of purchasing anew, or think of who you can pass items along to afterwards for reuse.
  • Talk to facilities, event-space managers, etc. beforehand about your desire to minimize waste and get their input of ideas.

Event Advertising[edit | edit source]

  • Take advantage of electronic media for publicizing the event. Email lists! But don't over-spam.
  • Create an event web site.
  • Offer electronic registration or confirmation.
  • Print fliers on the clean side of used paper (there's ample in Athena printers!)
  • Uses fliers sparsely and strategically and assure that they are recycled when removed from bulletin boards.
  • LSC slides during the movie are available for each event at a cost of $50 per weekend. Information is available at
  • All ASA-recognized student groups receive a total of 80 column-inches (equivalent to one full page) of free ad space in The Tech per academic year, split however they wish. Deadlines for advertisements are on a Tuesday-Friday system; all copy must be received by 4:30 p.m. on Friday for Tuesday publication, and by 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday for Friday publication.
  • Projectors in the Infinite Corridor are available for $80 per projector and $125 for both. There can be a discount for ASA recognized student groups but need to be booked well in advance (4 months). Information is available at
  • The Public Service Center has an Infinite Corridor slide that they offer to student groups- ask ahead.

Preventing & Reducing Solid Waste at the Event[edit | edit source]

  • Avoid mass distribution of paper hand-outs. Distribute copies of handouts or slides electronically via the web after the event.
  • Use double-sided printing for any materials to be distributed.
  • Limit the use of glossy paper to applications where it significantly improves the publication.
  • Assure that a sufficient number of well-labeled recycling receptacles are available throughout the venue (along with garbage containers to make sure recycling bins aren't contaminated).
  • Provide and later re-collect reusable name badges
  • Use whiteboards and blackboards for signs at the event or to direct people.
  • Use a projector with powerpoint slides to communicate messages, or simply for visual effects.
  • Have a computer running at the entranceway to have people sign in and share their email if desired.
  • Use reusable tacks instead of tape.
  • Be creative in your decorations! No balloons, streamers, etc. Try LED string lights.

Food Service[edit | edit source]

  • Plan food needs carefully to avoid unnecessary waste by accurately forecasting the head-count. Use RSVPs or registration to assist in event planning.
  • Plan your menu around finger foods that don't require plates or cutlery.
  • Serve food buffet style rather than in "box lunch" form.
  • Offer fair trade, shade grown, organic coffee.
  • Procure beverages and condiments in resource efficient bulk-packaging (2-Liter, Kegs, etc) rather than individual serving packets.
  • Use cloth napkins which you can later wash and reuse. Sustainability@MIT has a set you can borrow.
  • Consider the use of reusable, compostable, or post-consumer-recycled-content cutlery, dishware, linens, and napkins.
  • Provide *incentives* for attendees to bring reusable items (e.g. mugs, utensils) rather than expect disposable serviceware.
  • Consider having your group purchase its own set of reusable dishware for all of your events. Or partner with other organizations to do this.
  • Seek caterers that can maximize the use of local, seasonal, and organic food. Assure that there are vegetarian meal options. Potential sources around Cambridge for such food service include: Harvest, Veggie Planet, Basil Tree, Whole Foods, Trader Joes, and surely more. Veggie Planet is very friendly, tasty, and excited about low-waste catering.
  • Also consider the travel distance for caterers, the closer the better. Bon Appetit is on MIT campus.
  • Have a discussion with the caterer about your wants as far as minimizing waste. They can be surprisingly accommodating at the suggestion and often have their own ideas of how to limit waste!
  • Put it in writing. Include the policies above in the contract for food service.
  • Provide food composting services. MIT has some composting (unknown contact). The City of Cambridge has a composting project accepting many items, including the usual plus meat, dairy, even pizza boxes.
  • Donate excess food to local shelters, food banks, or soup kitchens.

Green Product Sourcing[edit | edit source]

  • Consider the environmental impact of any raffled prizes, give-a-ways, centerpieces, or decorations to be used at the event, and minimizing the packaging for such items. Innovative resource- or energy-efficient products might be demonstrated (e.g. LED holiday string-lights,
  • Distribute items to attendees that will help them to reduce waste and restore environmental quality in the future (e.g. cloth bags, native plant seeds, potted plants, etc).
  • Select products made from recycled or rapidly renewable materials. List the amount of recycled content and/or vegetable- or soy-based inks used.

Energy Conservation and Renewable Energy[edit | edit source]

  • Select venues that are as energy efficient as possible. Easy ways to assess this include seeking spaces with significant daylighting, modest and energy efficient electric lighting, automated building controls, and well insulated/large thermal mass building envelopes.
  • MIT has LEED certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) for: Stata Center, Simmons Hall, Brain Cognitive Sciences, Sidney-Pacific.
  • Purchase Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) or "green-tags" to offset the emissions of any electricity used for the event. There are numerous competitive certified-REC providers. For a list of providers, see The current average price of a REC is 2.5¢ per kWh.
  • To determine the projected energy usage for a particular building on campus, contact MIT's Director of Facilities Peter Cooper at PLCooper@PLANT.MIT.EDU or check out the campus energy map
  • Select venues adjacent to public transportation and with sufficient bicycle racks.

Participant Education[edit | edit source]

  • Explain the zero-waste objectives of the event to participants, in advance if possible.
  • Provide frequent visual and verbal reminders to recycle and reduce waste.
  • Encourage the return of items that can be reused at another event.
  • Promote the events environmental objectives.
  • Some interesting facts to convey:
  • Each individual generates about 1.5 tons of solid waste per year - about 4.5 pounds per person, per day. If we continue this pattern, we'll each create 90,000 pounds of trash in our lifetime (Resource Conservation Challenge, EPA, 2002)
  • 55.4% of municipal solid waste is landfilled in 2003 (EPA)
  • Landfills rank #2 in highest greenhouse gas emissions in the US (after fossil fuel combustion) (White House Taskforce on Recycling, 1998)
  • 1,830,000 tons of disposable plates and cups were used in the US in 1997 (up from 270,000 tons in 1960) (EPA, 1998)
  • 58% of municipal waste (by weight) are packaging and containers, or disposable products such as paper and plastic cups and plates, junk mail, trash bags, and tissue papers and towels. (EPA, 2003)
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Created April 22, 2006 by Anonymous1
Modified December 13, 2023 by Felipe Schenone
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