Statewide food events becoming aware of Zero Waste


Tables are set. Chefs are busy portioning out culinary creations. The doors fling open and a hungry crowd flocks in to wine, dine and enjoy good company—often for a good cause.

Hawai‘i’s many festive events and gatherings, often fundraisers for non-profit organizations, are popular in the Aloha State, where hotels and outdoor facilities abound. But what about the after-party…the used plastic forks and cups? The discarded water bottles? The empty liters of wine? And then there’s all the uneaten food left on plates.

Waste from the state’s growing number of events is impacting our landfills from Hilo to Hanalei. So how can organizers better manage the messy art of discard diversion to keep waste from filling up our landfills?

The answer lies in the tenants of Zero Waste (ZW). According to the Zero Waste International Alliance, ZW “is a goal that is ethical, economical, efficient and visionary, to guide people in changing their lifestyles and practices to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use.” In a nutshell, it means designing products and processes to avoid and eliminate waste and recover all resources. ZW aims to eliminate all discharges into the air, land and water that are a threat to the planet’s health.

Implementing the values of Zero Waste at Hawai‘i gatherings is the goal of several organizations and event organizers across the state. We share their successes, challenges and beliefs in hopes more events will jump on the ZW bandwagon.


About 2000 people sprawl both inside and out of Hawai’i Island’s Hilton Waikoloa Village’s conference center for Taste of the Hawaiian Range. A “grazing” event where attendees visit over 30 culinary stations and 40 food producer booths and exhibits, the agricultural showcase has been practicing ZW since 2010. Guided over the years by Recycle Hawaii and the County of Hawai‘i’s Department of Environmental Management, Taste has diverted sizeable amounts of waste out of the landfill.

The event relies on volunteers, primarily from Kanu O Ka ‘Aina charter school, to staff twelve discard stations equipped with bins for discarding food waste, compostable serving ware, HI-5 recyclable bottles, mixed recyclables and trash. Stations are positioned along walls enabling students to stand behind them for better monitoring. The youth make sure attendees discard their waste in the appropriate bin, including scraping food off plates.

It requires more money and effort to go ZW according to Marla Fergerstrom, Taste’s logistics coordinator and manager of UH’s Mealani Research Station—where the event began in 1996. She cites the equipment purchase of special frames, covers and compostable waste bags for the ZW discard stations. “The bags cost $1 each,” she details. “We purchase and provide sustainable serving ware for all the chef stations.”

Additional efforts include finding a resource to take the food waste (like the local piggery), securing a resource to take the compostable discards, and arranging for pickup.

Marla reports the amount of compostable supplies used at the 2016 Taste were a whopping 19,200 plates, 1,862 bowls, 12,250 forks, 1,700 spoons, 1,000 chopsticks, 13,000 napkins and 1,350 12-oz cups. After the event, she goes back to each culinary station to retrieve whatever supplies aren’t used as she can return unused supplies to Sustainable Island Products. The 2016 bill for compostable supplies was $1,188.53.

Since 2012, Taste has partnered with UH’s College of Agriculture Forestry and Natural Resource Management to monitor the volume of waste generated, collected, separated and recovered during the event. In 2016, Taste generated 1,514 pounds of waste with a 96 percent recovery— that’s 1,456 pounds of waste diverted from the landfill. Under the watchful eye of UH’s Dr. Norman Arancon, who supervises the weighing of all waste, Taste’s ZW recovery efforts from 2012 to 2016 have ranged from a low of 85.1 to 98.5 percent.


Presented by Hawaii Sea Spirits/Ocean Vodka, the annual Ocean Vodka Showdown attracts over 400 guests to the Sheraton Maui to sip cocktails and graze food stations. According to Shonna Pinheiro Baltar, director of marketing at Hawaii Sea Spirits, all event serving ware is compostable with guests receiving a reusable bamboo “spork,” a spoon-fork eating utensil. Sporks are purchased from the #Sporkitup campaign hosted by Maui Huliau Foundation, a non-profit founded in 2010 to provide unique environmental education programs for youth.

“We had four composting stations with the help of Malia Cahill from Maui Huliau …without her lead this would not have taken place,” notes Shonna about the 2016 event. Volunteers at each station encourage guests to divide their trash into food waste, recyclables, compostables and trash. She says attendees are receptive to the ZW effort and “it was the talk of the event.”

The goal of Ocean Showdown is to keep 90 percent of the waste out of the landfill. Kupa‘a Farm removes and processes the compostables. “At the end of the event we were left with four bags of trash for the entire night,” continues Shonna. “The remaining items were composted. No straws, no stirring sticks and no plastic utensils were used. Hopefully this was the first event of this size on Maui that will help lead the movement—with the help of the community and supporting organizations—to reduce the waste that comes out of large events.”


With five markets on O’ahu, FarmLovers bills itself as a “green market,” asking food vendors to use only bio-compostable serving ware and customers to bring their own shopping bags.

Pamela Boyar, FarmLovers development director, who is also president of the Hawaii Farmers Union United’s (HFUU) Oahu Chapter, says market customers don’t seem to mind the ZW efforts but she has to repeatedly check on vendors to enforce using compostable serving ware. “It’s more expensive so we have to police them,” she says, adding that the process “has raised the consciousness of our vendors because a lot of them didn’t do it. We don’t want to see any Styrofoam at any of our markets.”

At HFUU meetings, food is served on compostable World Centric serving ware Pamela buys at Containerland or Malolo in Honolulu. Meetings located on farms have compost bins for appropriate waste. “Everyone is cooperative,” states Boyar.

She adds, “Zero Waste is the only way to go for our future and our children’s future. The need for it is magnified with living on an island.”


Matt Lane is the founder of Cultivate; it organizes, assists and promotes events, plus facilitated the implementation of more than a dozen school and community gardens on Maui. The Valley Isle resident has been involved for many years in the ZW effort of the Lahaina Town Clean Up, the Source Interactive Arts Festival and beach cleanups. He served as a ZW coordinator for Jack Johnson’s 2014 tour spanning 24 venues across North America and is the on-site ZW and volunteer coordinator for Kokua Hawai‘i Festivals.

With so much involvement, Lane has many useful ZW ideas to share, most of which he learned through volunteering with the Kokua Hawai‘i Foundation and beach cleanups. These include having water stations instead of plastic bottle sales, providing attendees with reusable Klean Canteen-style cups, using nature- made “plates” like banana leaves, limiting vendors to locally made products with little packaging and using grain sacks from a local brewery instead of trash bags.

When planning a ZW event, Lane cautions to begin with a realistic approach as “most people are heavy consumers of plastic… you need to be flexible, understanding and reasonable with little expectations…set realistic goals.” After you have realistic plans for ZW, he suggests finding partners “that truly believe in this to support you…Ask for help!” He suggests researching Plastic Free Hawaii, Sustainable Coastlines, checking with your county office for local resources, or contacting him at http://cultivatemedia. org. Also, choose a venue that supports your ZW effort, purchase locally with little or no packaging and recruit volunteers to staff waste stations. Lane suggests having ZW volunteers serve as event greeters at an eco-village, which serves as the educational entryway to an event and puts attendees in the ZW mode.

Zero Waste is important to Lane who feels Hawai‘i is a great place for ZW events as “people understand and are trying to create change.” Living on an island brings the realization that choices must be made to create less waste and support local businesses and food producers.

He explains: “I started to realize the way we are taught to consume at an early age affects the way we consume in our homes, at the beach and at our favorite events. We need to create examples by teaching our children to consume locally and organically at a young age. It helps create a lot less waste. Not only for their health but also to limit the waste stream that is connected with consuming products from all over the world… Why wouldn’t we want to eat better food and drink better drinks that are produced right here in our beautiful home in Maui? There is much less waste created and you support your local community’s economy.”


With a mission to advocate, educate and promote the benefits of ZW on the Garden Isle, Zero Waste Kauai (ZWK) has assisted numerous events in managing the waste stream, including private celebrations and political fundraisers. The organization has been involved with several food events for many years: Kaua‘i County Farm Fair, the Garden Island Range and Food Festival, Taste of Hawai‘i and Desserts First.

The president of ZWK is John Harder, who also works as a contractor overseeing the building of a materials recovery center for the County of Kaua‘i. John has been a solid waste manager for over 25 years, overseeing operations on three Hawaiian Islands and in the Western Pacific. An ardent supporter of recycling and composting, he feels ZW is the ultimate tool for managing our discards.

While ZWK is involved in various green initiatives, helping events is one of its most time-consuming endeavors. As every event is different and ZWK’s volunteer base is stretched thin, the organization focuses on the pre-planning of events and leaves it up to event organizers to provide coordination and management. ZWK “tries to catch most events early on,” by guiding organizers through a pre-planning questionnaire, menu choices and options for compostable serving ware. It also trains volunteers.

“We like to walk through the event site and see what it looks like,” adds John. ZWK then gives recommendations for the number and placement of waste stations, which is also determined by projected amount of attendees. ZWK focuses on three areas of waste separation: recyclables, compostables and trash.

Explaining the goal of ZWK’s event effort, John says, “We aren’t trying so much to divert material from the landfill. Our primary focus is to demonstrate to event organizers the potential for diversions and show programs that can be replicated at future events. We want to show that if you pull out the organic and the reusable, then there’s very little left.”

ZWK offers event resources online; find a Zero Waste Event Manual, the setup for a ZW display and brochure for event use at:


Statewide events and organizations practicing the principles of ZW are leading the way for others. Show you appreciate these efforts by attending events that are responsibly managing the waste stream and become a ZW event volunteer. At home, use compostable serving ware at celebrations. In addition, the smart kitchen EatBy App, available from iTunes and Google Play, helps users waste less, eat fresh and spend less. Happy Partying!

For more info on Zero Waste:

Plates and cups begin the compostable process at Kupa’a Farms.
Maui Zero Waste Stations, Sheraton Maui