How to celebrate zero-waste events in housing societies

Any event celebrated on a large scale has negative environmental impacts since it produces a great deal of waste. Parties and gatherings generate a massive amount of waste from leftover food, single-use plastic bottles, cutlery, cups and plates, decorative material, and other rubbish. When dumped into landfills, this waste causes more stress on an already compromised urban waste management system. 

According to the Global Hunger Index, India wastes food worth Rs 244 crores per day; the number is likely to be much higher during events and festivals. India processes only 10% of its food waste while single-use plastic like wrappers and PET bottles contribute at least half towards the plastic processing industry which is projected to grow to 22 MT per year by 2020.

As bulk generators of waste, housing societies can be part of the solution by conducting zero-waste festivals and celebrations. They can plan their festivals and events with two considerations:

  • Produce less waste by using eco-friendly products
  • Dispose the waste responsibly by composting and recycling

Here’s how to make your society’s event a zero-waste one

Consider catering supplies

If you’re hiring a catering service, collaborate with them to use reusable serving supplies such as stainless steel/glass/ceramic cutlery and crockery. Eco-friendly, biodegradable supplies like  leaf plates are also an excellent option for societies who have already begun composting on-site.

Single-use plastic should be a complete no-no. This includes plastic cups, plates, spoons, PET bottles, food wrappers and packaging.

If it’s a DIY style event without catering, buy bulk grocery/food packets instead of small ones so that packaging waste is limited. You could also invite guests to bring their own cutlery or BYOE (Bring Your Own Everything including plates, napkins and bottles). Alternatively, you can rent reusable cutlery, plates and cups from a supplier in your city.

If biodegradable plates and cups are used, they should be responsibly composted on-site or segregated and handed to the waste collectors. But again, it’s going to add to the total amount of municipal waste. The idea should not be to reduce your society’s waste by giving it away to the government but to produce minimum waste to begin with. Any event that you may have should not be a burden on civic authorities or neighbourhood societies in terms of waste disposal.

Set up food waste stations

It’s important how you plan to process leftover food. This can be done by setting up food waste stations as close to the buffet table as possible because this is where most food waste is likely to be generated. Estimate the number of guests and set up at least two waste stations per 50 people. While setting up these stations, you have two options:

You can either instruct the guests themselves to dump the leftovers in a trash container and place the plates/cutlery at specially designated areas.


You can ask them to leave their plates/cutlery at designated areas from where an appointed member of the housekeeping staff will segregate the waste and wash the utensils.

In either case, you’d have to place a volunteer to keep watch by the waste station to make sure that wet waste is being disposed of in an orderly fashion.

Image courtesy: Rent-a-Cutlery Facebook

Place waste bins at regular intervals

Besides placing waste bins at food stations, you must place three colour-coded trash receptors at strategic places based on the number of guests. 

To make segregated disposal the responsibility of the guests:

  • Label the green bin as ‘FOOD WASTE ONLY’
  • Label the blue bin as ‘DRY WASTE ONLY’
  • Label the red bin as ‘HAZARDOUS WASTE ONLY’. Only this bin will have non-chlorinated garbage bin liners.

This distinction will help the society to easily segregate waste. Even if you don’t serve food in single-use plastic plates, guests may bring in outside food and create other types of waste so it’s important to have bins for all kinds of waste. Guests should be instructed to dump food in the green bin first and throw the wrappers/containers in the blue bin placed next to it. Drinks should be disposed of separately and the TetraPaks can be thrown in the blue bins.

Any sharp objects like broken glass, metal scraps, broken cutlery, decorative items, broken tools, scissors, aerosol cans, disinfection kits, PPE supplies, etc., should be wrapped securely and thrown in the red bins.

Outsource waste management for your event

Some societies have also been hiring catering vendors who also handle waste disposal as a package service. Frankey Pereira, who is part of the Managing Committee of Green Acres Co-operative Housing Society, a 382-unit society in Thane, says, “We’ve begun segregating and composting on a daily basis in staggered phases. But we hire a vendor for our Annual Day. They charge around Rs 280 per plate but also serve in reusable crockery, and provide cleaning and waste disposal services, something we need until wet composting systems are fully adopted and functional throughout the society.”

Societies opting for vendors should check that the agency follows standard segregation compliance and has eco-friendly catering supplies. Apart from caterers, any waste collection agency should be selected after ensuring they are empanelled with the local municipal corporation.

Logistics of a large-scale gathering

It takes conscious planning to organize waste-free events for a housing society, but it’s entirely possible and manageable with certain ground rules.

Lakshmipraba U S, a Bangalore-based sustainability expert and proponent of green living for 9 years, says, “There are multiple rentable reusable cutlery banks across cities, run by passionate citizen initiatives.” She is herself the founder of RentACutlery in Bangalore, which has prevented over 2 lakh disposable supplies from ending up in landfills. In her 560-unit society, Lakshmipraba has been highly successful in executing zero-waste events for 1,500 guests who attended the Republic Day celebration.

“We did everything ourselves, including appointing home chefs who prepared food for 21 food stalls”, she says. Dishes were served in leaf plates with wooden spoons and drinks were served in bagasse tumblers. We placed big water canteens with tumblers across the venue and encouraged guests to bring their own water bottles. This measure prevented 800 PET bottles from being dumped in landfills. No tissues were provided and guests were instructed to bring handkerchiefs.

The leftovers were composted in-house, too. She explains, “We dug a pit near the trees and used crushed leaves for the base. Drums of food waste were piled one after another with more leaves in between. Around 300-350 kgs of food leftovers and cutlery were composted. We were left with only one drum of plastic waste at the end of the event on a 5-acre property.”

Expert tips for food waste management

  • If you’re serving snacks, refrain from buying plastic packaged foods off the shelves like chips, biscuits, and cola. Instead, serve freshly-cooked food and juices/beverages in reusable crockery or earthen cups
  • Instead of buying paper napkins, go for real napkins (preferably darker shades) so they can be washed and reused at the next event
  • Instead of plastic water bottles, use large cans and jugs for serving water
  • Let guests know in advance that they’re invited to a zero waste gathering/event. Place visible signs throughout the event venue so that guests can be led to the trash cans 
  • Put up a board with penalty amounts for litterers
  • Appoint volunteers to help guests segregate waste and also to keep an eye on litterers

Rules for entertainment

Follow this checklist for guidelines on waste generated from entertainment/ceremonial activities:

  • Give gift vouchers, digital payments, or handmade gifts instead of store-bought products that involve packaging. Use newspapers or upcycled bags for wrapping gifts
  • For ceremonies and birthday celebrations, don’t use confetti
  • Select eco-friendly party favours that don’t need to be packaged or wrapped in plastic
  • Don’t encourage fireworks or allow select fireworks that don’t produce too much residues
  • Organize simple, physical games instead of art/craft-based activities that may generate waste
  • If you’re hiring entertainment from outside, such as music bands, performers, clowns/magicians for children’s parties, make sure they’re well-instructed about waste disposal etiquette in advance.

Etiquette for guests

Send a short list of rules to guests along with the invite stating the following:

  • No gift wrap allowed
  • No outside food and drinks allowed
  • Disposable items like balloons, use-and-throw party hats, goggles, etc. are not allowed
  • Food is not to be wasted, so take portions as per requirement
  • Maintain social distancing and mask rules
  • PPEs should not be thrown anywhere inside the event premises

Event decoration and disposal

Don’t use plastic flowers, lanterns or other use-and-throw decorations. Make use of old glass jars, decorative hangings, reusable string lights, lanterns, chimes, centerpieces to beautify the venue. Housing societies with composting provisions can use real flowers.

To-do list for MC/RWA

  • Send paper invites and envelopes or e-vites
  • Ask the guests to RSVP so you can estimate the number of attendees and plan accordingly
  • Train housekeeping staff/hired help in waste disposal etiquette
  • Mandatorily follow 3-way waste segregation
  • Arrange for a housekeeping team internally to collect all the waste at the end of the event and have it placed in segregated bins for waste agencies
  • Have wet waste kept separately if you compost on-site

Waste-free festival hacks

  • Replace large idols with smaller, eco-friendly ones free of chemical colours
  • Use natural, plant-derived colours during Holi
  • Avoid traditional fireworks or use eco-friendly Green Crackers.
  • Exchange handmade, wrapper-free gifts/mementos/prizes for events
  • Circulate zero waste rules for events in society group chats and social media. 
  • Reuse flowers/petals/leaves used for festival decoration for mulching during gardening/composting
  • Choose a real tree over a fake Christmas Tree

What does the law say about waste management at events?

In the matter of organizing events, the exact language according to the Solid Waste Management Rules 2016, states:

“No person shall organize an event or gathering of more than 100 persons at any unlicensed place without intimating the local body, at least 3 working days in advance and such person or the organizer of such event shall ensure segregation of waste at source and handing over of segregated waste to waste collector or agency as specified by the local body.”

This can be understood as follows:

  •  Waste segregation is mandatory whether the number of event attendees is more or less than 100.
  • Societies with over 100 units, producing over 100 kgs of waste and with an area over 5000 sq mt, will have to compost their wet waste (including that generated by the event) on-site.

An event being organised in a public place (not inside the residential society) requires permission from local authorities. However, waste segregation according to Solid Waste Management Rules 2016 still applies to such events before handing over waste to the ULB.

Cautionary rules for societies organizing events during Covid-19

The Ministry of Home and Urban Affairs has issued Standard Operating Procedures on preventive measures to contain spread of COVID-19 during festivities. It talks about Sanitation and Hygiene in following words:

  • Effective and frequent sanitation within the premises shall be maintained with particular focus on commonly touched surfaces/areas including lavatories, drinking and hand washing stations/areas.
  • Cleaning and regular disinfection (using 1% sodium hypochlorite) of frequently touched surfaces (doorknobs, elevator buttons, handrails, queue barricades, seats, benches, washroom fixtures, etc.) to be made mandatory in all public utility common areas.
  • Visitors and staff should be advised to dispose of used face covers / masks in covered bins available at the premises. The waste may be disposed of in accordance with the hazardous waste disposal guidelines.

In the wake of the pandemic, housing societies have been organizing small, low-key gatherings. Some have replaced buffet set-ups with boxed meals so that social distancing is maintained. As well-intentioned as that move is, it presents societies with the extra challenge of segregating food leftovers from the boxes, plus the waste from the disposable boxes. Buffet-style catering can still be followed with reusable cutlery while monitoring distancing measures and wearing masks and gloves. Sanitizers should be placed at entry/exit points and buffet tables so that they’re easily spotted.

Housing societies can appoint a separate waste management committee  along with volunteers to handle all aspects of event celebrations. Residents must join hands and overcome the initial resistance to celebrate eco-friendly festivals. Planet-friendly events turn into a labour of love and bring the community together when done right.

Community Living

What do you think?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *