Special events provide a great opportunity to recycle and compost. Efforts are appreciated by both your guests and staff. Once you learn the basics, you’ll see how easy it is to make it a Zero Waste event!

State and County policies require recycling at large events. Each event is different, so use these tips as an outline to begin building a successful recycling and composting program.

Printable PDF event signs:

Plan Ahead

  • Include recycling and composting from the start of the event planning process.
  • Check with the facility to verify existing trash, recycling and composting services. If these services will not meet your needs, contact your service provider for assistance in selecting appropriate recycling, compost and trash containers for your event. Order extra service at least several weeks in advance.
  • Advanced notification to vendors and/or caterers is important. A message with instructions about recycling and composting at the event should be included in your written event communications.
  • Think about the location of the containers and who will be using them (public or staff) so you can place them appropriately. There is a variety of equipment available: including carts, bins, and large boxes.
  • Identify who will be emptying the recycling, compost and trash containers at the event. Communicate with them to determine what needs to be done from set-up to closing to achieve successful recycling and composting. This is part of planning for the event and should not be done on the day of the event. NRWS/NCRWS offers free trainings for event staff — contact us for details.

Event Set-Up

  • Always place recycling and composting containers with trash containers — neither should ever be alone, since a lone recycling container will just fill up with trash, and visa versa! Lidded containers with restricted openings work best for recycling and composting since this discourages trash.
  • Recycling, composting and trash containers should all be different colors (blue for recycling and green or brown for compost). If bags are used, use clear for recycling and another color for trash for easy identification. Bags for compost must be certified compostable and not plastic. Never use dark bags for recyclables because recycling facilities consider anything in a dark bag trash.
  • Proper signage on all containers is key. It should be clear what items can be recycled and composted — use graphics and provide bilingual information whenever possible.
  • Reminders (signs posted at the venue, live stage announcements, messages in event programs or promotional materials) help reinforce the recycling message.
  • Make sure ample recycling and compost containers are placed near high volume areas: bars, kitchens, food bussing areas, food stalls, etc.
  • Remind staff and/or volunteers of duties — particularly the cleanup crew. A day of great recycling efforts can be obliterated if the cleanup crew has not been trained. If you are not able to recruit volunteers for cleanup, paying for assistance during this critical time is a worthwhile investment.
  • Make sure trash cans are emptied regularly. If trash cans overflow, guests and staff will start using the available recycling and compost containers for trash.

Reasons to Recycle at Events

  • Special events typically produce a lot of waste, which can lead to unexpectedly huge garbage bills. Recycling can save you money. There is always a charge for trash collection, while recycling service is provided free of charge. Composting generally costs 50% the trash rate.
  • State and County policies require recycling and composting at large events.
  • Your guests will notice and appreciate it – recycling is good PR!
  • By recycling and composting, you save valuable resources, conserve energy and reduce pollution.
  • Increasingly, corporations and agencies give preference to green practices when shopping for event locations and service providers.


Zero Waste Success Stories

  • Each year, the Earth Day and Fourth of July Festivals in downtown Napa recycle or compost nearly 90% of the event waste and generate only a few bags of garbage!
  • At the annual Napa Town and Country Fair each August, NRWS collects over 80 tons of recyclable and compostable materials — over 80% of the total material generated at the event!
  • Many downtown Napa events and BottleRock are now Zero Waste events.