Sustainability: College of Charleston’s Largest Event Produces Zero Waste

Sustainability: College of Charleston’s Largest Event Produces Zero Waste

Office of Sustainability volunteers who worked the night of A Charleston Affair

Office of Sustainability volunteers who worked the night of A Charleston Affair

Hours of coordination, planning, and collaboration paid off when 94.67 percent of the total waste weight generated by A Charleston Affair was diverted from the landfill, making it the largest zero waste event in the history of the College of Charleston.

“More than 5,000 people attended the annual alumni gala over the course of two nights,” explains Jess Tuckman, assistant director of events for the Office of Alumni Relations. “The waste the event produces always proves to be a challenge. Bringing the Office of Sustainability into the planning and execution was one of the best decisions we made. We are proud this was a zero waste event!”

RELATED: Watch a timelapse video of A Charleston Affair.

The industry standard for zero waste requires that at least 90 percent of total waste is diverted from the landfill. This year’s A Charleston Affair produced over 2,000 pounds of compost, 3,400 pounds of recycling and just 413 pounds of landfill waste.

College of Charleston Catering used compostable serviceware, napkins and cutlery; these items could be composted along with the leftover food waste. Typically sent to the landfill, these resources will be converted into nutrient rich soil at the Bees Ferry Landfill in just a few months. Cups, cans, and wine bottles used by the Icebox staff were recycled through the Charleston County program. The 413 pounds of landfill waste included gloves, plastic wrap, and any non-recyclable packaging.

RELATED: See the Sustainable Event Guide produced by the Office of Sustainability.

It took months of strategic and careful planning and a collaborative effort by multiple College of Charleston offices (alumni relations, sustainability, physical plant, fire and life safety, environmental health, and dining services) and outside vendors (Ice Box, JMC Charleston, and Charleston County and Food Waste Disposal) to achieve a zero waste event.

Heather Walbright, director of operations for Food Waste Disposal has helped many different events in the Lowcountry reduce landfill waste through increased composting and recycling efforts. She says, “The College of Charleston’s, ‘A Charleston Affair’ was one of the most challenging, yet rewarding events that we have been involved in. The Office of Sustainability staff was an incredibly vital component to achieving zero waste. Their leaders were as prepared as possible leading up the event.”

RELATED: Read more about the planning process.
Office of Sustainability volunteers

Office of Sustainability volunteers

Office of Sustainability volunteers worked throughout the event and long into the night to ensure waste was properly sorted. Throughout the night, they guided guests on the correct disposal of their drinks and food at consistent waste stations placed strategically throughout the event. Then, long after the guests left, they continued sorting waste.

“Anything can be achieved with planning and teamwork,” says Wilfred Fields, supervisor of the electrical shop for the College’s Physical Plant.

Over the past year, the campus has been making vast improvements in sustainable events. Several zero waste events took place during the 2013 Sustainability Week and at that point, they knew there was potential to compost at larger events. The College hosted its first large-scale zero waste event last fall during Family Weekend.

Brian Fisher, director of the Office of Sustainability, states that a zero waste A Charleston Affair “represents another significant step forward for the College on campus sustainability. It was a fantastic event supported by intense collaboration that had minimal impact on the environment. It is a great example for future events at the College and in our community.”