Disposable Serviceware

It might not be heavy, but there is always a lot of it…

Serviceware is a necessary evil so make choices that reduce impact, as much as possible.

The mountains of uneaten food, kitchen waste, used plates, containers, and bowls people have eaten out of, only to be thrown out a moment later, are massive waste-creators at many events. 

Helpful reminders:

  • Controlling what food is served at your event will help you to control what waste is created
  • Selling food that does require plates or cutlery immediately reduces the potential for waste
  • If your event is catered, then consider reuseable items (plates, cutlery)
  • If disposable foodware is unavoidable then take the time to match the wasted material with a waste stream that can be processed, and design on-site logistics to align event goals with local processing options

Food serviceware should also be made from renewable or recycled materials, rather than virgin or non-renewable. Compostable food packaging can be made from paper/cardboard, or wonderful non-paper options such as palm leaves and sugarcane waste. Cutlery can be made from potato starch or timber.

We dive deeper into sustainable food packaging in the Compostable Waste lesson and Procurement module (to come). Whichever type of material you choose for your food serviceware, ensure you have systems in place to keep it out of landfill either through re-use, recycling or composting. 

Serviceware is a necessary evil so make choices that reduce impact, as much as possible.

The mountains of uneaten food, kitchen waste, used plates, containers, and bowls people have eaten out of, only to be thrown out a moment later, are massive waste-creators at many events. 

Helpful reminders:

  • Controlling what food is served at your event will help you to control what waste is created
  • Selling food that does require plates or cutlery immediately reduces the potential for waste
  • If your event is catered, then consider reuseable items (plates, cutlery)
  • If disposable foodware is unavoidable then take the time to match the wasted material with a waste stream that can be processed, and design on-site logistics to align event goals with local processing options

Food serviceware should also be made from renewable or recycled materials, rather than virgin or non-renewable. Compostable food packaging can be made from paper/cardboard, or wonderful non-paper options such as palm leaves and sugarcane waste. Cutlery can be made from potato starch or timber.

We dive deeper into sustainable food packaging in the Compostable Waste lesson and Procurement module (to come). Whichever type of material you choose for your food serviceware, ensure you have systems in place to keep it out of landfill either through re-use, recycling or composting. 

Reduce Food Serviceware and Packaging Waste

I worked on an event where 80 per cent of the waste in the arena was compostable. It mainly consisted of food service packaging – plates, bowls, burger clams, coffee cups, cutlery, napkins.

A massive 13 tonne of this compostable material was collected and set for composting! Even though it was great result because it didn’t end up in landfill, it’s still awful to think that such a massive amount of material is created for a tiny moment in time and then discarded. The least wasteful option is to have reusable/washable serviceware, which, is a no-brainer for catered events indoors. Things get a little trickier if the event is outdoors, has large numbers or is not ticketed.

Taking single-use disposable beverage cups out of your waste stream will drastically reduce waste volumes. 

Cambridge Folk Festival introduced reusable pint and half-pint cups, with a returnable deposit. They estimate this avoided 40,000 cups a year from being thrown away. Stepping it up a notch is Woodford Folk Festival in Australia. The introduction of reusable cups is avoiding more than 250,000 cups being discarded! 

In temporary event settings with no permanent infrastructure, having reusable cups is less of a logistical challenge than food serviceware. The washing of cups is simpler than dirty food plates. 

For smaller events, where you want to have reusable food service plates and wash them on-site, you could use a system such as Waste Against Waste (ecomatters.org.nz). This is an inspired solution to the challenge of avoiding disposable food serviceware at events. Born in New Zealand, the not-for-profit provides melamine plates, cups, bowls and cutlery, which are hired to the event, along with a dishwashing service, staffed by volunteers. Using this service has an immediate positive impact on reducing disposable cups plates and cutlery. 

This concept can be easily replicated for smaller events. I’ve seen many social enterprises and collectives set up such services at universities and farmer’s markets. Attendees can also bring their own plates and you can offer a washing service. 

In Western Australia, the community group Earth Carers responded to a request from a local eco fair to have reusable cups and a washing service. They now have set up a cup and washing kit hire service for small events. They also have water refill stations available for hire too. (earthcarers.org.au)

Dishwashing services are drawing from the past to make good our future…

Reusables are not only the domain of small community events. Hillside Festival in Canada has a reusables programme. This 5,000 capacity event’s food vendors serve on sturdy reusable plates. Their dishwashing volunteers, the ‘Dish Ninjas’ collect and clean all of the plates, cups and cutlery used. Those that have brought their own can bring them for washing too.  (hillsidefestival.ca/pages/green-initiatives