Minimising your event’s food footprint and waste

3 June 2021

The impact of food waste is not only financial but also includes the energy, fuel and water used to grow food that may not be used. When food waste is sent to landfill it further contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. A research conducted throughout the foodservice industry uncovered that1:

  • a third of all food produced is wasted
  • the animal agriculture industry contributes to a massive 59% of CO2 emissions
  • emissions created by cattle (beef rearing) was 60 times more harmful than normal CO2
  • to meet global commitments to CO2 reduction, the western world would need to reduce its beef consumption by 90%
  • amongst this, we have an events industry that wastes up to 10% of everything it produces, and in the case of large banquets, this is often high-value beef products

Food and coffee breaks are a key component of every event as they allow the attendees to socialise and mingle. They also offer a chance to organisers to regroup and make sure the event is running as smoothly as possible. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that in most events there is more food available than actually needed. This not only uses a significant portion of the event’s budget unnecessarily, but it also amounts to approximately 10 million tonnes of food waste in the UK alone each year. As we discussed in one of our previous blogs, meals and food waste make up a significant percentage of an in-person event’s environmental footprint. The average event wastes between 15% – 20% of the food it produces.

So what can an event organiser do? Here are seven important activities that will help you minimise food waste in an event.

  1. Make minimising food waste part of the decision-making process. Whether you want to reduce it or if you’ve found a way to avoid food waste completely, it should be part of the conversation from the start. A lot of the major decisions like location, attendee numbers etc. directly affect your food’s footprint.
  2. Learn from previous experiences. If you have any data from other, similar-sized events, whether you planned them or not, take a look at the attendee behaviours and the numbers. This will help you understand the needed quantities and the potential waste.
  3. Minimise the carbon footprint. Choosing local vendors and in-season food is key. Also, consider choosing ingredients that consume fewer resources. Vegetarian options can be less resource-intensive than meat.
  4. Choose reusable plates and flatware when possible. If you must use disposables, choose serving ware and utensils that can be recycled or composted but try to avoid packaging such as plastic bags, wrappers, and foil that cannot be recycled or composted.
  5. Have waste stations that are accessible and easy to spot, with properly labelled bins. Provide a composting or food waste bin as it would help attendees sort waste correctly.
  6. Communicate with your attendees before, during, and after your event. It is important to let your attendees know about all these before coming to your event so that they come prepared. Furthermore, having clear signs and explaining your processes during the day of the event will help you to achieve your goals.
  7. Consider partnering with food donation programmes. This can be a bit tricky to organise, but it is worth it. You might want to ask your caterer or your venue if they have done anything similar before since they might be able to help you with it.

It may seem a bit of a lengthy list of actions but if anyone looks more closely it is clear that most of these steps are already part of the planning process. It is important to embed sustainability in all the decisions when organising an event. Some aspects of it are more straightforward than others, and of course, some have a higher environmental impact.

To move forward and become more sustainable we need to change our habits and sometimes our perception of what we consider important. Making your event sustainable can help to steer your attendees toward a more environmentally friendly path.

The Sustainable Conferencing Initiative is here to help event organisers in our community with sustainability and virtual innovative technologies. Through our blog posts and resources pages, we want to share information. We are hoping to start a constructive discussion.


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