Are you an organiser of festivals, markets or events that have food stalls? Unnecessary food waste generated at your event could be costing you, and the environment.

By adopting a simple food waste avoidance plan at your event, you can:

  • Reduce your waste bills. By avoiding food waste, not only can your stallholders cut down on their food ingredients bills, but less waste at your event can mean less waste management bills if you pay per load or volume.
  • Enhance your reputation. Be a sustainability steward. Demonstrate to your supporters and visitors that your event is a green event by focusing on the avoidance of waste, rather than just good management of it.
  • Reduce your event’s environmental impacts. Avoiding food waste not only reduces waste headed for landfills, it also reduces the consumption of energy, water, chemicals and the generation of greenhouse gases associated with the food being produced in the first place.

Managing food waste is about more than just composting organic waste leftovers from your event. It is about identifying places to avoid the generation of food waste in the first place, such as excess portion sizes or spoilage. While some events and their stallholders are already minimising their waste, many organisers and stallholders aren’t aware of these opportunities to avoid food waste and save money. As an event organiser, you can help stallholders and consumers avoid the generation of food waste using this guide, as well as manage it through an organics waste stream.

Avoiding food waste at your event

Making a food waste avoidance plan for your event is simple. Below are 4 easy stages, plus we’ve put together a detailed week-by-week plan.  Copy and paste these simple email templates to engage your stallholders in the initiative at the beginning, during and after the event.

1. Engage your stallholders

The key to success in avoiding hidden food waste is engaging your stallholders. Many stallholders might not be aware they have opportunities to improve the efficiency of their processes, from ordering ingredients through to serving stall customers at your event.

Based on research and pilot studies, we recommend you:

Seek commitment  Let your stallholders know upfront when you engage them that this will be a ‘green’ event, and that this is good news as it could help them save money, in addition to helping the environment. Let them know they are expected or encouraged to participate – you may wish to build participation and compliance requirements into your stallholder contracts.

Here is a template of an email to invite them to the initiative.

Begin the conversation about existing waste reduction initiatives (such as compostable servingware and recycling) then introduce food waste reduction as part of the wider initaitive.  Share stories and testimonials from the trial projects at Pyrmont and Yamba Festivals.

Provide recognition & rewards Everyone loves a reward! Why not incentivise participation:
– Extra acknowledgement of participating stallholders on event website
– Signage at their stall, e.g. “I’m a FoodStallSaver” [See resources below]
– A discount on stall fees for next year (e.g. 25% for best participation)
Make it easy – provide the stallholder toolkit We know stallholders are also busy, especially on the day of an event. We have created a simple step-by-step guide for stallholders to identify and manage their hidden food waste.

Here is a template of an email to set expectations for the initiative.

Follow-up! Even with best intentions, stallholder tasks might slip. Following-up both proactively and as needed will increase the success of your food waste initiative. Send emails and follow-up with phone calls as needed and meet them during set-up on the day.
Seek external support Following-up with your stallholders might take a little time, so if you think your events team requires extra resources, either internally or to engage consultants, you might want to seek some additional funds for example from your local council, sponsors or Tourism partners.

Here is a template of an email to thank them for participating in the initiative

Take a holistic approach to managing food waste

Despite you and your stallholders’ best efforts to avoid the generation of food waste in the first place, there will likely always be some unavoidable (inedible) food waste. Taking a holistic approach to managing food and food-related waste at your event:

  • Introduce an organics waste stream for stallholders: Introduce organic waste collection for stallholders to dispose of their food and other organic waste e.g. vegetable peels, egg shells, burnt or damaged food.
  • Provide individual stallholder bins for food waste: Provide a 10-20L bucket for each stall that can be emptied at the end of the day (or as needed) into a back-of-house organics waste bin.
  • Require compostable servingware to increase food plate waste recovery: Why not go a step further and require all servingware to be compostable material. Research indicates that a substantial amount of food waste at events can be ‘plate waste’, that is, leftover food on plates by consumers, which is difficult to separate into food waste and general waste. By ensuring all servingware is compostable, this means not only the servingware, but also ‘plate waste’ can go the organics waste stream and be diverted from landfill.

2. Engage your waste contractors

If you pay your waste service contractors by volume or weight, then you could save money by reducing the amount of food generated by your stallholders and visitors.

  • Discuss options to introduce organics waste collection bins for your event. You may wish to have separate food waste bins for back-of-house by stallholders, and front-of-house by consumers. The first time round, just introduce separate bins to measure a baseline of potential food waste reduction and hence potential cost savings.
  • Discuss options with your waste contractor for diverted organic waste to be composted or converted to energy.
  • Clarify whether you will be paying by weight, load or fixed costs as this affects potential cost savings associated with reducing food waste.

3. Engage Food Rescue organisations

If there is still surplus edible food leftover at the end of the day at your events, a great option is to have this food rescued by a local food rescue non-profit, who redistribute this food to vulnerable people.

Contact your nearest food rescue group ahead of time to see what volumes they are willing to collect. For example, OzHarvest or SecondBite.

4. Engage your visitors

Promote your green event to your visitors – both ahead of and during the event:

  • Promote food waste initiative on your event website, in tweets and media. Let supporters, partners and visitors know you are tackling sustainability initiatives. Use the #stallsavers tag on twitter and instragram to increase the reach of your communications.
  • Show visitors that you are committed to reducing food waste – provide examples of what your stallholders are doing (e.g. here’s a snapshot of what Pyrmont stallholders do). Showcase these on your website, via twitter and/or at the festival.
  • At the festival/event, consider using a stall (or part of your ‘information’ stall) to promote the initiative through flyers, signage and staff. Provide information about the food waste issue – there are plenty of ready to go resources you can print, for example here.
  • If you have food waste bins for visitors, make sure the signage is crystal clear with infographics – what goes in the green bin and what doesn’t. Signage could also include reminders about how to avoid food waste in the first place. Use volunteers to help educate your visitors about the bins. [See resources for ideas]

We know as an event organiser you are extremely busy, so we’ve made it easy for you with this week-by-week suggested Food Waste Implementation Plan for Event Organisers:


Measuring and monitoring your food waste efforts

As part of your efforts to reduce food waste, you may wish to measure the amounts of food waste generated and diverted from landfill.

Knowing in advance how much food (and related organic) waste is generated could help you better estimate the cost of introducing an organics waste stream for your event. It can also help you establish a baseline to measure the success of your avoidance efforts, or to benchmark stallholders. Better understanding of where and why food waste is generated can also assist in targeting your avoidance efforts.

This sort of initiative can be quite involved, so you might want to seek some additional funds for example from your local council.

There are a number of ways you can measure waste generation and diversion. See the Pyrmont Festival Pilot Report for details.