Planning a Zero-Waste Event in Your Park
September 22, 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the increasing importance of city parks. Entering into the warm spring months of 2021, residents across the city flocked to their neighbourhood parks as the primary meeting spot to socialize, keep active, and uplift their spirits.
This summer, Park People’s Sparking Change program worked with equity-seeking community groups to help address the need for resilient, clean, safe, and equitable experiences in green spaces across Toronto. In a number of parks, we also focused on the ambitious goal of decreasing the waste output produced through park programming. With our collective growing consciousness of climate change and environmental degradation, we all need to take every step possible to mitigate waste in parks and protect our city’s valuable green spaces.
Figure 1: Waste Education Workshop & Zero-Waste Potluck
Park People has prepared this planning guide to assist you in delivering zero-waste park programming.
Consider the Context
First things first. When planning your zero-waste event it’s critical to take a close look at your community and its specific waste management & diversion challenges. For example, the Thorncliffe/East York community where we worked this summer has many ageing high-rise apartment towers where there aren’t chutes for recycling or food waste. It’s also critical to understand the belief systems and norms that influence individuals’ approaches to waste management.
Community park groups should work with community leaders to conduct a walk-through of residential and public spaces to identify the barriers that exist. Take the time to get to know your community and their waste habits in order to address opportunities and challenges.
Create a Zero-Waste Plan & Zero-Waste Kits for the Park Event
The primary goal of your zero waste public event is to help the community appreciate why decreasing waste output matters. It’s important to be patient and ‘lean-in’ to understand the community’s concerns. This is particularly true during COVID-19 when there are many practical barriers to creating a safe, zero-waste event. For example, community members may not feel safe with zero-waste snacks that aren’t individually wrapped or packaged in single-use plastic.
To help address these issues, work with the community groups and leaders to create a zero-waste plan (see Figure 2) that lists all of the items and supplies needed for your public event.
Figure 2: Example of Waste Plan prepared for a potluck celebration in the park.
Discuss the event’s requirements and identify possible zero-waste alternatives. These alternatives will be the start of your community’s zero-waste kit. For example, for a park potluck that might typically require paper plates, cups, and utensils, prepare a kit that includes reusable versions of these supplies. This helps to reduce waste for that particular event, while also building the community group’s capacity to host zero-waste events in the future.
Figure 3: Zero-waste kit for park event
Build Waste Education Into Your Park Event
To go the extra mile, combine your zero-waste event with an engaging waste education workshop for participants. At Park People’s end-of-season potluck celebration we invited participants to decide whether common household waste items should be put into the garbage, recycling, or food waste bins. At the end of an event, you can work with the organizing group to assess the event’s waste footprint to help people process the volume of waste such events produce. Then, invite people to re-sort waste and see how much can be diverted through recycling or composting. (Note: any resident of The City of Toronto can order waste education prints by calling the City of Toronto’s 311 line).
The purpose of park-based waste education is to help people internalize zero-waste concepts and, in turn, apply practical insights to other aspects of their lives.
We often refer to our parks as ‘green spaces.’ Let’s go a step further and think about our consumption and waste habits in spaces designed to remind us of the importance of nature and community. We hope your next zero waste event leaves no trace – other than the smiles on people’s faces.
Generously Supported by The Balsam Foundation with additional support from