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Tips from We Don’t Waste: Reducing Waste at Meetings & Events

By M+E Staff

While attending the 22nd annual Meetings Industry Council (MIC) of Colorado Educational Conference & Trade Show at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver on March 1 – 2, I was reminded about the important work We Don’t Waste has been doing across the Denver metro region for more than a decade. 

Noticing how much good food was going to waste, founder Arlan Preblud decided to take it upon himself to start delivering the excess to local food banks in 2009. By 2017, We Don’t Waste had four refrigerated trucks, moved into an 11,750-square-foot food recovery and distribution center, and operated with the help of staff and volunteers. 

Five years ago, I had the opportunity to interview Preblud when writing an event profile for Colorado Meetings + Eventsabout the organization’s Dumpster Dinner fund-raiser, where chefs made all the cuisine from food that would have otherwise been thrown away. It was a creative event idea and a pleasure to learn more about what inspired his creation of what has become one of the largest food recovery organizations in Colorado. 

Currently, We Don’t Waste has approximately 165 active food donors (restaurants, venues, caterers, distributors, producers and institutions) who are helping keep quality, unused/unopened food out of the landfill and going to people instead. As a result, We Don’t Waste serves more than 100 hunger-relief organizations (plus another 220 through partner distribution), ranging from soup kitchens to school food pantries, shelters and food banks.

At the MIC Conference, one of the breakout sessions was “12 Years of Saving Food – We Don’t Waste & Centerplate: Building Environmentally Responsible Partnerships.” Matthew Karm from We Don’t Waste and Kayley Boyle, executive chef of Centerplate Catering (the exclusive caterer for Colorado Convention Center), talked about how to attract clients and partners and become a sustainable force in the meetings and events world. 

Since Earth Month is coming up in April, it’s the perfect opportunity to share tips these We Don’t Waste tips for reducing waste at meetings and events using these tips. 

Set Goals & Market Them

  • Set zero-waste goals and include them in the marketing of the event.
  • Consider including a designated sustainability role when budgeting for event or establishing an event taskforce.

Engage Staff & Event Participants

  • Distribute food-saving products/tools (reusable cutlery, branded containers).
  • Use visuals to highlight how much food is being consumed at a given event vs. wasted.
  • Consider partnering with a relevant business/nonprofit/B Corp (e.g., food recovery, composting, sustainable event management).
  • Consider implementing a “donation” (fine) system. For every no-show guest, a charge will be made, and the proceeds directed to a partner nonprofit, B Corp or environmental offset (such as planting trees).

Implement Practices

  • Consider plated food instead of a buffet to reduce waste.
  • Use smaller plates when there is a buffet to encourage guests to take less food.
  • Clearly mark bins (consider making signs more accessible depending on audience).
  • Use compostable physical materials (e.g., plates, cutlery, silverware).
  • Have a designated “drop off” zone for food/beverages that can be safely re-distributed.
  • Vocalize where recycled materials/compost is being directed and its impact.