While separating recyclables from trash after collecting for a local event, I wondered how much more we could have avoided burying in our landfills.

Even though I was processing recycle bins, 83 percent of the content in the bins was either non-recyclable items or had to be thrown away because it was soiled and could not be recycled. That was a disheartening experience, but it prompted me to think that we can do better.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, a California study found that the average participant at a public event generates 2.5 pounds of waste per day. Considering the number of events that are put on every week throughout the year, waste generated at events has a significant impact on communities and the environment.

With that in mind, Brevard Zoo Conservation Manager Amy Reaume decided to invest time and resources to make one of the biggest events at Brevard Zoo, Jazzoo, a zero-waste event. She knew she had a challenge.

The event typically has 1,700 attendees and generates about 6,000 pounds of garbage — an average of 3.5 pounds per person. Only 20 percent of that volume is recycled.

Reaume found a vendor, Bay Mulch Inc. in Plant City (baymulchinc.com), to take that garbage and transform it into organic fertilizer and soil.

"We diverted more than a ton of compost from the landfill and more than 76,000 plastic items were replaced with Eco-Products compostable equivalents at Jazzoo 2017," Reaume said. "Including vendors, who were encouraged to enjoy the event and visit other vendors to sample food and beverages as well, attendance was over 2,000 people."

That means more than 7,000 pounds of waste was saved from the landfills.

What a great feat and an impressive example to be followed. It shows that big events can be successful and friendly to the earth at the same time.

Putting on such events and being environmentally conscious should be the goal of any organization, especially groups whose mission is to protect and preserve the environment.

The cost involved in the zoo’s effort might be prohibitive to most, but that should not stop every single event organizer from making improvements and taking steps toward creating more sustainable events. In that case, baby steps could be the best approach.

Take the example of Daytona State College’s ShORE (SHaring Our Research with Everyone) annual research symposium for students, scientists and the community. In 2016, Dr. Debra W. Woodall of the Institute of Marine and Environmental Studies and the ShORE organizer, hoped to reduce the waste generated at the symposium and implement some green initiatives.

Woodall sent empty chip bags to TerraCycle, used compostable plates instead of regular plastic ones and encouraged participants to view the agenda online instead of printing it. She promoted the use of individual water bottles and prevented hundreds of cups from being sent to the landfills. She made a sign to alert everyone about what was being done to reduce the event’s footprint.

"We are working to make all of our public events green," Woodall said.

For Woodall’s deeds, ShORE 2016 was awarded a green event certificate through the 3Rs and Beyond Green Event Certification Program (3rsandbeyond.org), a program that offers a guideline on how to make events more sustainable. The program, whose goal is to recognize events that hit the mark, is available to any event organizer. It is free.

No matter the change, big leaps or baby steps have one thing in common — commitment. Starting with the event organizer, it can extend to vendors, volunteers and attendees. The degree of earth-friendliness that is achieved will depend on other factors, too. But, if there is no commitment, all bets are off.

So if you are an event organizer, add to your 2018 resolution to commit to more sustainable events. Making all events green is the responsibility for all of us. Happy New Year! 

Email Marcia Booth at Marcia@3RsAndBeyond.org.