How to “zero waste” in official meetings?

When people hear about my zero waste lifestyle, they ask me all sorts of questions, oftentimes very personal ones too. And they also ask about tips on how they can reduce their waste. However, I do not have kids, pets, and do not have to organize or host conferences or meetings. So there are many things I cannot tell you from first-hand experience. I cannot tell you how lucky I always feel when other people, like Franziska and Mateja, offer to share their experiences on my blog with all of you 💚!

Franziska is a PHD student at my alma mater, the University of Osnabrück in Germany, and part of the research project on sustainability, eCoInnovateIT. She’s definitely one to walk the talk! Mateja is Franziska’s close friend, student assistant and specializing in European Sustainability Policy.

Both of them decided to make their last project meeting waste-free! And here’s how this went down 😜.

Meetings might be similar all over the planet. Many cookies are eaten, carbonated or non-carbonate bottled water (mostly in plastic) and many liters of coffee are drunken. At the end, the hard-working staff has produced a huge amount of waste – independently of the institutions’ claim to practice sustainability or not. These were our thoughts, when we started the planning for our next project meeting. Isn’t it strange to research about sustainability and to nosh all that sweets with three layers of plastic packaging in a meeting? Thankfully, Franziska is fully in swing of zerowaste as she is writing here phd thesis on sustainable consumption. And now: our experience and the most important to-dos and not to-dos in detail.

All you need is planning! Because doing zerowaste means that you can’t possibly go to the next supermarket around the corner. This is especially true, if you forgot something, like we did. Luckily, official meetings, which include snacks and drinks, are rarely called in spontaneously.

Shopping

Franziska and Mateja don’t own a car and with their bike the shopping would not have been possible, mainly because of the crates. This is why we decided to use car-sharing as an alternative and in particular the flow-car, which is a local car-sharing company. The day before the meeting we went to the bulk store in Osnabrueck (check out Shia post about Tara unverpackt genießen).

There, we had the opportunity to pre-order and all we needed was waiting for us and waiting to get started (what a service)! Our order included two types of homemade cookies, of which one was gluten-free. Also, Tara offered us to bring back all the drinks left and get our money back.

For a meeting with 18 persons we ordered:

  • 3 liter of organic milk in glass bottles
  • 2 types of cookies in Tupper ware
  • 2 crates of sparkling water in glass bottles
  • 1 crate of apple juice in glass bottles
  • 2 types of tee in jars
  • Bananas, pears an apples (5-8 each)

And what is missing? Yes, coffee. Inexpertly, that was the first hurdle! For the huge coffee machine at the Senatssitzungssaal, we needed to purchase the coffee packages of the Studentenwerk. Therefore, it was not possible to avoid packaging waste L. It was also interesting when we realized that we forgot sugar (Franziska drinks here tea or coffee only with milk). Luckily, our colleagues still had some sugar at their office, so we managed to get it without producing waste.

Other interior

Apart from these ingredients we needed some accessories to refuse waste. First: tea balls. Franziska herself only owns two of these. But nicely, the team of Tara borrowed us six tea balls.

Second: one needs water decanters for tap water. We brought our own from home. But surely we would recommend for each company/ institution (in regions where you can drink tap water) to have some in their kitchens.

Third: we also brought our own cloth napkins, as these are truly necessary for a zero waste meeting. While Franziska herself tries to live zero waste and therefore already is goodly equipped, Mateja is a zero waste starter and needed to include her grandma for the planning (where she got some cloth napkins) 😊.

The Event

The rest of a zero waste meeting is processing the same like every other event. Franziska introduced the concept of zero waste and explained that todays’ meeting is aiming to produce no waste at the welcoming part.

For lunch we went to the university’s canteen. Of course there would be more sustainable alternatives but the university’s canteen offers many organic products and is quite cheap. At this point, we have to admit that we forgot to tell to the participants that they should bring a cloth napkin with them. Therefore, some of our colleagues used paper napkins.

Waste – Facts

In the end we had a box of organic waste, a huge coffee filter, one piece of plastic, which was on one of the bananas, five pieces of paper (food coupon for the canteen) and sadly the plastic packaging of the coffee.

As the university of Osnabrueck doesn’t have a container for organic waste, we took it home and put it in the organic waste can.

Our statement for a first time zerowaste meeting?

  • Waste is greatly possible to reduce but not quite avoidable (e.g. food coupons, coffee packaging?)
  • You need time for the additional work
  • Against all odds the meeting was cheaper as the previous meetings with the same size. Especially, since we could bring the products we did not use back to Taras
  • And the best part: the cookies, which have been made only for our meeting by Tara were super delicious!

► The expenditure of time might be a little bit more than usual, but for the next meeting we do know how things are, which in turn means that our planning expenditure will be the same as for any other meeting. Also in the name of money we only can recommend ZW and in the end: homemade cookies, organic apple juice and fresh fruits taste so much better, than similar products bought in a supermarket.

2 Comments

  1. Lovely story, thanks for sharing.
    I recently organized a party for 25 children where the only waste was: a small bin of organic stuff (brought back to put in a compost bin), 2 small glass jars (olives and jam), 3 paper cups and some paper napkins, which also went in the compost. I am sure not veryone cooked using the same zw standards as me, but I was quite happy. No adults to feed, though, which meant no tea / coffee needed: I love the idea of borrowing the tea balls!
    And you’re right: the budget was really low, but the time investment was bigger.

    • So good to hear that it is also very doable for kid’s parties! I am sure you can even reuse the jars and wow, it is even very little compostable waste! Great job! And I bet the kids had just as much fun ;)!

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