What does it take to put on a net-zero-waste event? The short answer, according to Carl Niemann, is 100 percent buy-in from all participants. In other words, it’s all about educating event staff, vendors and spectators, while providing them with the tools they need to execute a zero-waste event.
Niemann, manager of public sector solutions at Waste Management, Inc., said his company has developed a set of best practices based on projects that include the world’s most attended golf tournament. The 2012 Waste Management Phoenix Open – one of the oldest and largest golf tournaments on the PGA Tour, hosted more than half a million spectators without using a single trash can.
Known as the “Greatest and Greenest Show on Grass,” the 2012 event pumped more than $222 million into Arizona’s economy, according to an Arizona State University study.
More than 97 percent of waste generated by the tournament was diverted from landfills, exceeding the 90 percent tournament goal.
The Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale is an event that Waste Management and the PGA plan for the entire year prior to the event. Using British Standards 8901, which is basically a triple bottom line approach to events that defines the requirements to ensure an enduring and balanced approach to economic activity, environmental responsibility, and social progress relating to events, and after two years of waste analysis, Waste Management brainstormed ways to reduce the amount of waste destined for a landfill and came up with ways to help reduce, divert and recover.
“One of the tools that we used to help us achieve the 97 percent diversion rate and have a successful event was to self certify to the various standards of 8901, which is a sustainable event management system,” said Niemann in a presentation at the recent Growing Sustainable Communities Conference in Dubuque, Iowa. “Additionally we used the GRI Event Organizers Sector Supplement to rate our reports and analyze our data. We felt it was really important to use internationally recognized standards and procedures to make sure our methodologies and data presented was transparent and comprehensive,” he said.
One of the most important aspects of Waste Management’s plan was open communication to all parties involved. After initial waste analysis of earlier events, Waste Management worked with vendors on ways to eliminate waste products that would later be impossible to divert from landfills, and suggested alternatives. Vendors were also asked to sign a Net Zero Waste Participation Agreement, which encouraged them to take responsibility for achieving the goals of the event.
“We gave them a list of acceptable materials that could be brought on the course so that on the back end we could be sure to recycle or compost it. We also really made sure what materials not to bring,” Niemann said. “We wrote specific materials into a contract that every vendor who was going to be associated with the event signed. We wanted to create a sense of commitment that everyone … was on board with the goals.”
All goals also were openly communicated to more than 500 volunteer recycling ambassadors who received pre-shift training on assisting spectators with proper segregation of waste materials on the course for collection in recycling or composting receptacles. Most importantly, the hosting parties ensured that all goals were prominently displayed prior to and during the event for all spectators to see.
In order to make it as easy as possible for spectators to properly dispose of their waste in the proper bins, Waste Management provided more than 6,000 white and green bins, with matching bags that would assist in back-end transportation. Materials that could be composted were to be disposed of in white bins with clear bags that prominently displayed which materials were acceptable. Recyclable materials were to be disposed of in green bins with green bags. Once again, acceptable materials were displayed on the fronts of the bins. Further signage included 15 triangular 8-foot signs, 100 cardboard and plastic bin signs, and 100 back of house signs.
“Color coding not only helped the attendees know where to put their materials when they wanted to discard them. But it also helped coordinate the placement and movement of the materials from the course to the right dumpsters that were eventually taken offsite for processing,” said Niemann. “This consistency was one of the keys that helped us achieve the high diversion rates we accomplished this year.”
In addition to color coordinating the waste bins and signage, the recycling ambassadors were scattered throughout the course to assist spectators with the separation and disposal of their waste. These volunteers were polled after the event and the majority responded that the training information was effective, and they felt their work as recycling ambassadors had a positive impact and contributed to the success of the program. Most volunteers rated their experience as “good” or “excellent,” and said they would volunteer again. All of these volunteers were also asked for suggestions as to how to improve the event.
Waste Management also led the charge at the Phoenix Open in suggesting that Arizona Public Services purchase renewable energy to power the entire tournament. The company’s 18th Hole Hospitality Tent was powered by solar energy, and the company brought in small sized, solar powered compactors for use on the course, and a full sized solar powered compactor for back-end handling of waste.
Carl Niemann, P.E., is in his 22nd year with Waste Management, Inc., currently managing a team of professionals focused on meeting the solid waste management and sustainability needs of municipalities and educational institutions in the Midwest. His experience providing sustainable solutions in the solid waste industry includes a variety of leadership roles over the past two decades focused on sustainable customer solutions, environmental engineering and compliance, and operational excellence in solid waste collection, processing and disposal. Niemann holds a Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering and a Master’s degree in Environmental Engineering from the University of Illinois - Urbana/Champaign.