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Zero Waste Committee

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Zero Wasting events in Rochester, NY 

Written by Zero Waste chair May 4, 2013

Rochester, NY has a lot of outdoor events, especially in the summer.  It’s one thing to make these events recycling events, where your guests feel good about their environmental footprint.  It’s a step beyond to make your event Zero Waste.  That means hundreds, maybe thousands, of folks come to your event and leave with little impact on our environment. Food, plates, silverware, packaging, wrappers, drinking cups, and all those tasty ingestibles and their accouterments we bring to bear on special occasions get sorted, recycled, or composted. 

Properly speaking, zero waste is where you design products so that the end-of-pipe diversion gets transformed; it is a system designed with environmental health in mind from the very start-- "cradle to cradle."  But until we reach that sustainable Holy Grail, we can design our consumption-intensive events as environmentally friendly as possible.  

It takes a little more planning than the business-as-usual way of creating events, where you call up all sorts of vendors who bring stuff to your event and then hire a single trash hauler to take it away to who-knows-where.  A Zero Waste event requires that you get everyone, especially the event planners and coordinators, on board with thinking environmentally. Without this vision thing, it won’t work.  If the key players come to the table kicking and screaming about all the extra trouble this will make, it’ll be a dud.  (In the future, if we’re lucky enough to have one after a couple of centuries of seriously trashing and warming* our planet, environmentally friendly events will be the norm.)

First off, to even approach zero waste, you’ll need to start planning early.  You’ll need a recycling company, a waste company, a composing company, vendors with recyclable containers, lots of bins, lots of signs (to direct and educate the public), and lots of volunteers to help instruct your guests where to place waste properly.  It sounds a bit much, but check out this guide from the great state of Connecticut: “An inside guide to event recycling.” Each region will be different depending on how dedicated businesses, government, and the public are to maintaining a healthy environment--and what the recycling market is like.  

Some events in our Rochester region that have gone nearly Zero Waste are the annual Greentopia and Ganondagan Festivals.  There are probably more.  Presently, our Rochester Sierra Club’s Zero Waste Committee and a local enterprise dedicated to sustainability called Epiphergy are helping to make the Rochester Tour De Cure event on June 2nd a zero waste event.  Zero Waste always looks good on your event.

I’m not going to rhapsodize much on the value of making your event as environmentally friendly as possible—except to say that much of our trash is toxic to our children, and improperly dealing with trash will make adapting and mitigating Climate Change more problematic.  Not to mention, landfills are really, really bad for our environment:

“Landfills are the largest source of anthropogenic methane emissions in the U.S., and the impact of landfill emissions in the short term is grossly underestimated — methane is 72 times more potent than CO2 over a 20-year time frame.” (Page 7, Stop Trashing the Climate)

Key to a healthy climate of zero waste events is a political and business environment that has the incentive and desire to help make our region’s events trash free.  Without easy access to recycling services (i.e., hauling and sorting), it will be more difficult to orchestrate all the elements needed to make our events zero waste. 

It’s also crucial that the local media keep a keen eye on how recycling is actually being accomplished.  For example, The Investigative Post in the Buffalo region holds its leaders and institutions accountable for increasing the recycling rate: Housing authority ignores recycling mandate.

It’s easy at this point in time, where environmental concerns are thought to be external to our existence, to create events that throw all trash into a single stream and create the illusion that everything is being taken care of properly.  More difficult is steering this great wasteful system of ours towards a more sustainable path, where environmental knowledge rules over political, business, and social convenience.

* As of this writing, the Carbon Dioxide on our atmosphere is passing 400 parts per million. “The speed at which Earth’s atmosphere has reached that density of carbon dioxide, a known greenhouse gas, has scientists alarmed.”(Earth's greenhouse gas levels approach 400-ppm milestone  (May 1, 2013) LA Times)


Moving towards Zero Waste Summer events

By the time you read this, the American Diabetes Association’s June 2nd Tour De Cure bike ride will be over, and the Ganondagan Native American Festival of Dance & Music at the end of July may still be greatly anticipated. These events have in common the goal of approaching “zero waste.” That is, instead of sending to the landfill truckloads of plastic and styrofoam food and beverage containers that were only used once, they are seeking to recycle as much as possible and to ensure that the food waste is turned into compost or something else useful.

Your Sierra Club is involved in these efforts. With our support and Ganondagan’s determination to be good stewards of the Earth and its resources, the Native American Festival has diverted over 95% of its waste from landfills the last few years. But most Festivals and outdoor events don’t seek to minimize waste, and produce tons of it. Why? In some cases, they just don’t think it’s important enough to warrant the trouble. After all, dozens of volunteers are needed to staff the waste stations to ensure that event participants put their waste in the correct bins, there has to be an appropriate company or facility to receive the materials, and those separated materials need to be transported. The transportation in particular can come with a high price tag. And to really do it right, vendors selling food should use paper instead of plastic, and most definitely instead of Styrofoam, which is hard to recycle and breaks down extremely slowly.

As we are working on making the Tour De Cure as Zero Waste as possible, we are running into these and other challenges. But it’s worth it. The organizers are alerting the bicycle riding participants to the “green” event saying “We want to demonstrate that Moving Towards “Zero Waste” Summer Events all Rochester, NY events can be made nearly zero waste events and encourage all events to be waste free…. Wouldn’t it be great to help Stop Diabetes and do so in a way that helps both our bodies and our environment stay healthy?” We can’t say it any better!

What You Can Do:

• Write or call the City of Rochester and Monroe County and encourage them to make “zero waste” a priority at events that they coordinate

• Write a Letter to the Editor about the importance of the “zero waste” goal at summer festivals/events

• Make a donation to Sierra Club to assist with zero waste costs that we incur when we help make events “zero waste”

• Contact us to volunteer to take a 2-hour shift at a waste station at the Ganondagan Native American Festival (July 27-28)

Check us out on our new page Zero Waste Committee: Rochester NY on the new Sierra Club Grassroots Network.

trash canPlease consider signing up to our group and joining in our efforts by entering your e-mail in the Google Groups box below. We discuss, story files, information and resources on our how best to recycle in the Rochester area.

Rochester Sierra Club Zero Waste | Google Groups

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This short online video gets at the heart of Zero Waste:  

The Story of Stuff | Click here and go to the filmFrom its extraction through sale, use and disposal, all the stuff in our lives affects communities at home and abroad, yet most of this is hidden from view. The Story of Stuff is a 20-minute, fast-paced, fact-filled look at the underside of our production and consumption patterns. The Story of Stuff exposes the connections between a huge number of environmental and social issues, and calls us together to create a more sustainable and just world. It'll teach you something, it'll make you laugh, and it just may change the way you look at all the stuff in your life forever.


  • Zero Waste Committee Main Page Sierra Club Welcome to the new recycling movement for the 21st Century and to the work of the new Zero Waste Committee! Zero Waste is a design principle for the 21st century; Producer Responsibility Recycling is the means for achieving a deep transformation of wasteful production and consumption. We aim to lead the transition from traditional end-of-pipe waste "diversion" programs provided by local governments to "cradle to cradle" recycling systems designed, financed, and managed by producers, in order to drive improvements in product design, stimulate local economies and reduce climate change impacts of transportation- and energy-intensive product chains. Phasing out landfilling and incinerating discarded resources is prerequisite to Zero Waste; hence the committee also coordinates Club work on waste disposal issues.    

  • The Sierra Club's policy for reducing waste is based on Zero Waste.  

  •'s Recycle page: Recycling Rochester | Recycle everything | Rochester news |  

  • Our Zero Waste (Or Pretty Darn Close) program with Chris Burger on November 6th, 2008.  

  • Earth Resource Foundation (ERF) Founded in 1999, Earth Resource Foundation (ERF) is an environmental educational non-profit organization developed to empower the general public with the resources needed to make environmentally sustainable choices and changes.

  • Activist Network Home - Conservation - Clubhouse - Sierra Club

  • New Yorkers for Zero Waste Platform 2010 "The N.Y.S. Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has prepared a new State Solid Waste Plan that finally recognizes that materials in our waste stream are valuable and need to be preserved. We strongly endorse its preference for waste reduction, reuse, recycling and composting over disposal. The less waste we dispose of the more environmental, economic and social benefits that we will enjoy.    Unfortunately millions of tons of garbage are still being wasted by being sent for disposal in landfills or incinerators.  The DEC estimates New York’s recycling rate to be only 20%, far short of the 50% reduction and recycling goal to be met by 1997 under the State Solid Waste Management Act of 1988. A large portion of waste headed for disposal is recyclable (50%) or compostable (30%) material that could be processed by other means into new products. "        

  • Environmental Services | Monroe County, NY "Recycling in Monroe County—The “Blue Box” Program The following containers, paper materials and license plates (defaced) should be placed in your recycling box and taken to the curb before 6:30 a.m. on your regular trash collection day. Click here to download a recycling guide."

  • What is the relationship between trash and Climate Change? Or, why do we need to recycle? What is the concept of Zero Waste and why should we strive towards it? This is all explained in a wonderfully clear document “Stop Trashing the Climate.” Check this out: Stop Trashing the Climate "Stop Trashing the Climate provides compelling evidence that preventing waste and expanding reuse, recycling, and composting programs — that is, aiming for zero waste — is one of the fastest, cheapest, and most effective strategies available for combating climate change. This report documents the link between climate change and unsustainable patterns of consumption and wasting, dispels myths about the climate benefits of landfill gas recovery and waste incineration, outlines policies needed to effect change, and offers a roadmap for how to significantly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions within a short period. "



Got Zero Waste questions concerning Sierra Club policy, action, or about our committee?  Contact |

 Interested in volunteering for some specific projects?  Check our Volunteer Opportunities.

Zero Waste Committee

  • Time: Every forth Tuesday  4:30 PM – 6:00 PM  
  • Location: Rochester Greenovation 1199 E. Main St., Rochester, NY 14609 
  • If you are new to the committee, please contact for last-minute committee changes or cancelations
  • We're pretty casual. If you want, just drop in during committee times and sit yourself down.  

Zero Waste Committee in the News

  • This is an article that features our committee's objectives: Trash talk  In five years, Monroe County's Mill Seat landfill, which takes waste from the county and the City of Rochester, could be full. But county officials want the Riga landfill to last another 25 years, so they've applied to the Department of Environmental Conservation for permission to add 118 acres to the current 95-acre landfill. County officials say they expect the approval process to take about three years. To be clear, county officials say they don't want to increase the amount of waste the landfill takes in on a daily basis, which is capped at 1,945 tons. Instead, they need the extra space, they say, to keep handling the current amount of trash, since the landfill is nearly full. "We're really requesting a continuation of operations," says Mike Garland, the county's environmental services director. (July 17, 2013) Rochester City Newspaper 
  • This is an article about the importance of using Monroe County's EcoPark--for household hazardous waste: The Monroe County EcoPark Leftover household products that contain corrosive, toxic, ignitable, or reactive ingredients are considered to be “household hazardous waste” or “HHW”.  Products, such as paints, cleaners, oils, batteries, and pesticides that contain potentially hazardous ingredients require special care.  Improper management of HHW can include pouring them down the drain, on the ground, into storm sewers, or in some cases putting them out at the curb.  The dangers of such methods might not be immediately obvious, but improper disposal of these wastes can pollute the environment and pose a threat to human health.  To help prevent these types of things from happening, Monroe County has accepted these materials through their household hazardous waste program since the program started in 1991.  (July 31, 2013) Happenings - the monthly newsletter of the Finger Lakes Institute [more on Recycling in our area]
  • This is an article about our committee's desire to reduce waste from unwanted phone directories. Directory dilemma In San Francisco, if you want a copy of the yellow pages, you have to ask for it. City law prohibits delivery of the phone books to anyone who hasn't specifically requested them. A similar opt-in system could cut down on the number of unwanted or unused phone books that sit in piles at Rochester-area apartment buildings and office complexes, says Frank Regan, chair of the local Sierra Club's Zero Waste Committee. And Regan says he and other like-minded club members are planning to start a campaign for a local opt-in law.  (May 1, 2013) Rochester City Newspaper 
  • This is an article about our committee's desire to ban the plastic bag: The Good, The Bags, and Earth Day You see them just about everywhere, and on this Earth Day, the plastic shopping bag is getting some attention. And not in a good way. "I don't think we think that eventually this stuff has to go someplace," said Frank Regan, Sierra Club. "And it does go someplace." They dangle from trees, like ugly ornaments. Shuffle down streets, like plastic tumbleweeds. "I think most people think they're a way of life." (April 22, 2013)Rochester YNN 

How to make your Rochester-area event nearly Zero Waste

  • Before you start planning your event, please read this short note from the great state of Connecticut: “An inside guide to event recycling.”

  • Come to one of our meetings (see above) and talk with us.  We've got a lot of experience about event recycling and local businesses who will help you. 

  • Contact us if you need volunteers (which you will) to help folks separate their garbage so it gets recycled properly.  Signage is not enough, Volunteers are critical to make your green event workable and stay within budget.

  • We are working on an online survey to find out how interested those planning and attending outside events in the Rochester region are about making their events nearly zero waste.

  • We are compiling materials, some online like signage for your containers, for recycling food, papers, recyclables, local groups can do their own event recycling with a little help from us. 

  • Thinking: Should we move towards gentle persuasion (just providing materials and volunteers for events) or go for something more aggressive, like the The Zero Waste Event Program that was created to encourage waste prevention and reduction, recycling, and composting at events held in the City of San Josť. 

  • We are working on compiling a pamphlet for making your Rochester-area event nearly zero waste with help from other regions that have successful programs.

  • Event Survey Please take our Sierra Club Zero Waste Event/Recycling Survey.  Only a few questions. Easy-peasy! Please note that we are not collecting names; it’s totally anonymous and when you hit ‘submit’ and then ‘see previous responses’ you get a nice graphic display of the answers.  I know, this is totally unscientific but it also provides a text area for comments.  This is just a way to get some general feedback about how folks feel about event recycling hopefully get folks thinking. Please post this survey far and wide so we can get as many responses as possible. 


  • Working on eliminating unnecessary products that produce unnecessary waste.
  • Sharing information with other groups
  • Major Success: Monroe County will recycle 3-7 plastics – major effort by our committee
  • Tours/Outings
    • Tour of RIT | Golisano Institute for Sustainability
    • Goodwill
    • Epiphergy
  • Updating on critical ZW issues, like the DEC Solid
  • Got the media to do a major public information (above the fold) article on the new electronic waste law that begins in April 1st of 2011
  • Good relationships with local environmental reporters
  • Tabling Materials enhanced and tabled at Greentopia
  • We host many guest speakers at our monthly meetings.
  • Our big goal right now is to get all events in the Rochester, NY region to be nearly zero waste events. 

Zero Waste is a design principle for the 21st century; Producer Responsibility Recycling is the means for achieving a deep transformation of wasteful production and consumption.

We aim to lead the transition from traditional end-of-pipe waste "diversion" programs provided by local governments to "cradle to cradle" recycling systems designed, financed, and managed by producers, in order to drive improvements in product design, stimulate local economies and reduce climate change impacts of transportation- and energy-intensive product chains.

Phasing out land-filling and incinerating discarded resources is prerequisite to Zero Waste; hence the committee also coordinates Club work on waste disposal issues. The Sierra Club's policy for reducing waste is based on Zero Waste


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