As event design and planning specialists, we pride ourselves on creating beautiful events, incorporating of-the-moment culinary trends and gorgeous flowers and decor into each and every design.
Unfortunately, however, those very same one-of-a-kind elements often result in significant waste. And over the past few decades, as the world has discovered the increasingly toxic effect of waste on our environment, there has been an enormous push to reduce waste, encourage recycling, and “go green.”
Millennials, in particular, are driving this change. As a growing percentage of the event industry’s clientele, their voices are being heard, influencing not only how we think about food and design, but also how we handle event-generated food and floral waste.
Food waste. Believe it or not, more food reaches landfills and incinerators than any other single material in municipal solid waste.
Biz Bash, a leading voice in the event planning industry, recommends that event planners make waste reduction a part of the planning process from the very beginning, helping clients choose caterers and venues that support waste reduction initiatives and developing specific plans to reduce waste, as well as donate or recycle leftover event product.
Yet planners repeatedly run into significant roadblocks. Food and catering vendors typically do not allow donation of leftover food from their kitchens due to liability concerns – the fear that prepared or previously handled food will become tainted or inedible during further handling and transport and therefore subject the vendor to potential legal action.
But independent caterers and venues that provide in-house catering are often unaware of legal protections already in place to protect “good faith” donors. Every state has what is called a Good Samaritan law, providing protection to good faith food donors. More importantly, the federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, signed into law in 1996, standardizes donor liability exposure across the 50 states and further encourages the donation of unused or leftover food.
There may also be tax benefits to donating leftover food, though it is always best to check with an accountant or attorney to determine qualification for such benefits.
Our industry has been working to build awareness of the protections offered by state and federal Good Samaritan laws, as well as options available for post-event food donation. Nationally, Feeding America has developed a network of food banks ready to accept food donations for distribution to the needy in local communities. And there are a growing number of organizations in major metropolitan areas that also help facilitate the donation of leftover food from social and corporate events.
Here in Washington, D.C., both D.C. Central Kitchen and the Capital Area Food Bank accept food donations as part of their mission to feed the hungry. It is incumbent upon us as event producers to address our venue and catering partners’ liability concerns by pointing out the protections offered under the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, and to facilitate user-friendly and cost-efficient ways to get donations directly to organizations such as local food banks.
Floral waste. And what about all those gorgeous flowers that typically get tossed immediately after an event?
For years, we have encouraged our clients to donate floral arrangements after an event to a senior living or nursing care facility of their choice. One of our floral partners has rearranged large arrangements into smaller individual arrangements for local senior residents at his own expense.
And with the enthusiastic support of our clients, we’ve sometimes delivered leftover arrangements ourselves to local hospital, nursing, or senior living facilities. But now there are an increasing number of resources to help with this time-consuming and expensive task. Savvy business entrepreneurs have jumped into the vacuum, making it easier and easier to connect donors with recipients, lessen logistical hurdles, and streamline costs.
Petal Share, right here in Washington, D.C., trains volunteers to collect, rearrange and deliver flowers after an event to hospital and nursing home patients, especially those in underprivileged areas. Servicing a number of metropolitan areas around the nation, Random Acts of Flowers and Repeat Roses do the same.
In addition to being donated at the end of an event, flowers can also now be “shared” across events. Bloomerent, for example, connects consumers with florists in their local communities who will repurpose arrangements for another event, driving both cost and waste down significantly for all involved. Following the first event, flowers are returned to the florist to be repurposed. There they are rearranged, then delivered and set up for the next event.
And here’s another great idea for recycling and repurposing event florals – ask your florist or a local flower sharing business to dry out those beautiful blooms and create confetti for an upcoming wedding.
Repeat Roses has taken the recyling effort one step further, reclaiming expired blooms at the end of the sharing cycle and transporting them to a compost facility.
Oh, happy earth!
ATELIER EVENTS takes recycling and waste reduction very seriously, and we’re determined to become event industry leaders on this issue. We’ve begun talking with our vendors to encourage more openness to food and floral donation, and to our clients to build awareness and consideration of creative waste reduction options.
Stay tuned for more on this issue and how we’re striving to do our part. And please “think green” as you plan your next event. It IS possible to have your cake and eat it too. You CAN have the event of your dreams, give back to your community, AND be environmentally friendly!
Image credits (top to bottom): 1. Martha Stewart.com | 2. SCAA Event / Sustainable Event Strategy Initiative | 3. Office of Congresswoman Chellie Pingree / Maine | 4. Fast Company / Co. Exist | 5. Tumblr | 6. Wolfgang Puck Catering | 7. City Market, Onion River Co-op / Burlington, VT | 8. Sarah Box Photography | 9. coco+kelley | 10. Rebloom | 11. Random Acts of Flowers | 12. Sarah Legge Photography / UK | 13. Biocycle.net | 14. The Event U