By Toni Mascaro, Vice President, Convention and Meeting Services, FMI
Zero Waste Luncheon Photo

As a professional meeting planner and principal on event logistics for the food industry association, I increasingly challenge our team to make sustainability a goal by either donating uneaten food or partnering with facilities to divert waste from landfill. This year, at the 2020 Midwinter Executive Conference, we considered a pilot with our partner Unilever, which will now serve as a case study for 2020 and beyond.

The Idea

Did you know that Hellmann’s bottles are now made from 100% recycled plastic? In fact, across their portfolio, 50% of Unilever’s plastic packaging in North America comes from recycled content. Given their passion for sustainability, Unilever was a natural partner with FMI to deliver  a  zero waste Executive Awards Luncheon for the FMI Board of Directors and guests. Initially we thought to plan a meal with no disposable accessories (such as coffee stirrers and signage), but quickly we aimed higher on a collaborative effort that spanned multiple partners.

The Partners

It started with buy-in from our conference services team at the JW Marriott Desert Ridge, led by Chef Bryan and his talented team in the kitchen. Then Waste Management Sustainability Services provided us with Comprehensive Zero Waste Program Management that helped guide staff to evaluate the potential for compostable items. Recycled City LLC served as our local Arizona organic composter and TerraCycle’s provided zero-waste event boxes for recycling non-compostable items.

Behind the Scenes

Two days prior to the luncheon, the Waste Management team arrived onsite to establish a training system with the chefs, kitchen and banquet staff. All the food prep for the lunch would be monitored and trimmings would be sorted into organic collection bins rather than jettisoned into the trash. 

Staff sorted packaging waste into recycling bins, including a bag which was shipped to TerraCycle for hard to recycle materials. After the lunch, plate waste was added to the bins for compost and our partner at Recycled City compost picked it up from the loading dock after the event.

Lessons Learned

The results were a giant success! We diverted hundreds of pounds of material by way of recycling, composting, reuse and donation with 0.0 lbs. going to landfill.

We learned a great lesson on how sustainability transcends traditional roles and functions. Many retailers, hotels and restaurants have relationships with food banks or food rescue organizations to assist them with food donations for excess food but going for zero-waste to landfill is a labor of love. I’m especially excited for the spring when I can actually “plant” my event program that was made from wildflower seeds.

Changing the way we approach the well-oiled machines of our businesses with an eye for material recovery and the elimination of waste-to-landfill requires commitment to go the extra mile. Estimating the right amount of food (from the ingredients to the plate) in a hotel environment with multiple concurrent meal events is the Mount Everest of the food-waste-reduction journey. All of us in the food industry have a role to play on this climb, and we’re here to share the stories of the pioneering scouts who are leading the way.

Sustainability, transparency and closing the loop on plastics weren’t just educational topics covered on stage at Midwinter – you could see our commitment during committee meetings, education sessions and our Tech Talks. For instance, in order to walk the talk of sustainability, we worked with Dasani and offered a water dispenser with still or sparkling options in our Refresh lounge.

Our organization looks forward to sharing more best practices and collaboration with partners in the near future. Namely, we’ll be releasing a lesson learned document with our association partners at the Food Waste Reduction Alliance.