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Green Event Program

Event guidance for UC San Diego is subject to change. See current guidelines on the Return to Learn website.

In 2019, the Staff Sustainability Network, in collaboration with the Sustainability Programs Office, developed these guidelines to make the Annual Staff Summer Celebration a zero-waste event and achieved a 97% diversion rate. Help UC San Diego reach its waste diversion goals by making your next conference, seminar or training session a zero-waste event that doesn't generate waste that goes to the landfill.

What is Zero Waste?

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Waste is anything at your event that you must throw away, including, but not limited to: food, dinnerware (plates, cups, utensils and napkins), brochures, giveaways/promotional items, decorations, centerpieces, signage, raffle tickets, wrappers, beverage bottles and cans. You can achieve zero waste by reusing, recycling, reducing and composting.


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  • Be proactive about making your event zero waste. Start by telling everyone (caters, vendors, tablers and attendees) that your event is zero waste.
  • Digitally market your event. This includes social media, websites, Eventbrite and campus marquees. See University Center's Digital Announcement
  • Use QR Codes wherever possible. Attendees can scan them with a smartphone camera.
  • Register for Basic Needs’ Free Food Notification App to send a message to students when leftover food from events is available.
  • Choose eco-friendly vendors to help reduce waste during your event. Work with caterers to see if they can provide zero-waste options.
  • Know what disposable items will be at your event and how to recycle and properly dispose of waste. Ask caterers what type of dinnerware they provide and vendors/tablers what materials they will be distributing.
  • Provide proper (waste, recycling, composting and specialty) receptacles in strategic locations.
    • Limit the number of locations to reduce confusion.
    • Recycling bins are usually located in training and meeting rooms, but for larger events, you can order more from Facilities Management.
    • Assign and train volunteers to each location to assist in proper disposal.
    • If necessary, request/create signage to let attendees know which disposables go where.
    • Determine who is responsible for emptying receptacles. Agree before the event who will weigh the waste streams and how immediately following the event.

Food Service

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  • Whenever possible, avoid:
    • Individual serving-size items (e.g., water bottles, soda cans, chip or cookie bags, wrapped popsicles or candy bars, wrapped utensil sets).
    • Cellophane wrap. It is not recyclable in single-stream (blue) recycling bins and must be either disposed of as trash or collected separately and taken to an off-campus location that accepts plastic film.
    • Polyactic acid (PLA) products. PLA is a vegetable based plastic that is not recyclable. It is biodegradable under the proper conditions, however it requires additional processing to break down.
    • Bleached paper products. This most commonly includes plates and napkins.
  • Given the opportunity, choose or request:
    • Housing*Dining*Hospitality Catering that provides available options to make your event zero waste.
    • Reusable if the option is available and affordable (e.g., dinnerware, platters, beverage and condiment dispensers).
    • Disposable items that are:
      • Recyclable: Plastic dinnerware, aluminum foil, bottles and cans
      • Compostable: Brown paper dinnerware, wooden utensils and stirrers, tea bags, sugar packets
    • Plant-based items to make your event vegetarian or vegan.


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  • Encourage reuse of common supplies, such as tablecloths, decorations, games and props
  • Avoid single-use items, like balloons, streamers, printed event materials with specific dates, locations, etc.
  • Handouts: print smaller, double-sided flyers (1/4 letter sheet) to maximize space, or print one flyer with a QR code that links to a webpage so attendees can scan with a smartphone.
  • Giveaways/Promotional items:
    • Consider what material giveaways are composed of and which bin they should be placed in if they need to be disposed of.
    • When ordering giveaways, ask the supplier for reduced packaging. Do not order individually wrapped items.
    • Remove giveaways from any excess packaging and ask the event coordinator if they have a collection for that type of material.
    • Ensure that attendees know how to dispose of items when they're done with them.
    • Don't force attendees to take anything they don't want or won't use.
  • Ideally, anything you bring to the event should leave with you.
  • Be creative and fun whiule keeping items out of the landfill!

Vendor/Tabler Resources


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  • Bring reusable bags, beverage containers and utensils.
  • Don't take or accept single-use items or those you don't plan to use
  • Know how to dispose of items properly and pay attention to recycling/waste signage.
  • Use digital resources, such as ticketing, event details and directions. Use your phone to capture information instead of taking flyers, brochures, business cards, etc.


If you have questions about hosting a zero waste event, contact