Zero-waste school events

Melbourne Girls' College landscape.jpg

Terry Donnelly helps to make food on-site to avoid excess packaging at a Melbourne Girls' College event.

Zero-waste school events

A perspective on running waste-wise events – Melbourne Girls’ College, Victoria

Contributor: Andrew Vance, Sustainability Coordinator

Running a school event can be daunting enough without the added pressure of considering what to colour-code your 16 different waste streams – or how to separate out co-mingled recyclables from landfill for that matter … but there is a lot of support for running green events, and much of it is especially tailored to schools.

The trick is to keep it simple.

Minimise waste in the first place

The most important consideration for running a waste-wise event is to minimise the waste brought onto the school grounds in the first place. Try promoting tap water over individual-serve drinks or plastic cups; it’s a win-win for community health and the environment.

Investigate – if you are considering serving disposable cups, make sure they are actually 100 per cent degradable or recyclable. Many cardboard cups actually come coated with a thin film of plastic inside, which is not recyclable at all. Plastic packets lined with foil and paper coffee bean bags lined with plastic all spell disaster down the recycling chute, so try to look for products made of one material such as cans or bottles. Despite the fact that a plastic bottle is made from crude oil, it is almost 100 per cent recyclable if deposited correctly, whereas packaging that combines two different materials is very rarely recovered due to the huge amounts of energy required to separate out the components – yes, I’m talking about Nespresso, George Clooney!

Removing the need to serve food and drinks in disposable containers is the ideal situation. A fantastic service hired out for school fêtes and similar events is a Wash against Waste trailer.

Wash Against Waste services can provide you with an outdoor wash station with hot water and various collections of mugs, reusable plastic glasses, cutlery and crockery. All you need to do is provide a team of washers, who can sign up for hour-long shifts to share the joy (and community building).

Start with two waste streams

Start with two waste streams that are well labelled: landfill and co-mingled. Make sure that your signs are obviously placed, clearly written and actually match the type of products your event will be producing. For example, if the event is mainly selling drinks in cans, include pictures of cans; or if juice boxes are your thing, whack the picture on your signs.

Contact your local council waste officers and seek their assistance. Many councils will loan or hire out special colour-coded wheelie bin lids to make it obvious which bins to use. They may even organise an extra collection for you if you ask nicely. Try to make sure your bins are colour-coded in line with the colour scheme supported by your local municipality.

For the more adventurous

You could tackle composting and recycling soft plastics if you are more adventurous. Worm farms and compost heaps if you have them at school will break down your fruit and vegetable scraps, but worms will turn their noses up at any meat or bread products – so make sure you keep the worm farm away from the BBQ.

The RED Group provide one-off or regular soft plastic collections for a fee. You need to bag the plastic into garbage bags and keep it free of contaminations like food and hard plastics, so you should only introduce this scheme to your event if you have vigilant bin monitors.


Case studies

Calare Primary School

Calare Primary developed a three-point plan to meet their commitment to becoming a zero-waste school. Read about their No Waste Wednesday:


Durrumbul Primary School

Durrumbul Primary hosted the Brunswick Valley Small Schools Cross Country Carnival and their Waste Wise Management Plan helped them divert 78 per cent of their waste from landfill.


Fox St Pre-school

The Fox Pre-School Carnival is an annual fundraiser with a dedicated Waste Wise Management Plan.



Environment Education Victoria

This kit is particularly useful for schools that are planning open days, fêtes, sports carnivals, Kids Teaching Kids, EnviroWeek, or any large event where food is served.


ResourceSmart Schools Victoria

ResourceSmart Schools has five modules to help your school track its sustainability journey and identify savings made.


Cool Australia

Fact sheets on compost bins, worm farms, waste and packaging.


Ceres Environmental Park

For waste-related education resources and contacts.