FRESH Summit Produces Less than 1% of Landfill Waste

October 10, 2022

FRESH Summit logoHeld on September 19 – 21 at Clemson University, the FRESH 2022 Food, Packaging & Sustainability Summit focused on technology as an enabler of circular solutions across the food value chain and included strategies to achieve sustainability targets in both corporate and consumer environments.

With the help of Clemson students, faculty and staff, Sonoco FRESH worked to reduce as much waste as possible at the FRESH Summit. A Zero Waste event is one that has the goal of reducing the amount of waste produced at the event. An event can create a massive amount of waste, whether it is from food scraps and leftovers, handouts (agendas, speaker presentations, giveaways, etc.) or food and drink containers.

waste bin

Landfill waste generated during the Welcome Reception

The industry standard for a Zero Waste event is 90% diversion from landfill. 87% of the waste from the FRESH Summit was composted, 12% was recycled and less than 1% was sent to landfill.

During the 2021-2022 academic year, with guest speakers from WM, Sonoco FRESH sponsored a Creative Inquiry (CI) course on Zero Waste events, with a second-semester focus specifically on the FRESH Summit. The CI students were instrumental in creating many of the processes and procedures that were implemented during the Summit to make it a Zero Waste event.

Cassidy Nosenzo

Cassidy Nosenzo presents during the FRESH Summit

“When planning a Zero Waste event, you have to consider everything, including the materials going into your décor and the training you give your staff. You have to make sure everyone understands your message,” said Cassidy Nosenzo, a recent Clemson graduate who participated in the CI and spoke at the Summit. “The magic solution is to focus on the ‘reduce’ in reduce, reuse, recycle. The goal should be to reduce waste overall. It is difficult to have no waste produced from an event like this, but that is the goal we strive for. It’s a mindset and it starts at the beginning of a product life cycle rather than at the end.”

Guided by Clemson recycling staff and representatives from WM, the CI students researched and implemented strategies to reduce waste at the FRESH Summit, including minimizing printed materials with the use of an event app, utilizing fresh produce that was donated after the event for décor and designing menus with bulk items and locally-sourced products.

waste sort photo

Student volunteers perform a waste sort

The CI students also researched eco-stations and identified the best options to help Summit attendees easily put their waste in the right bins. Some of the Summit eco-stations were donated, and the others were purchased with grants secured by the students. Waste sorts were held throughout and at the completion of the FRESH Summit where student volunteers ensured the accuracy of separation and weighed the waste. Attendees were encouraged to refrain from bringing any outside food or beverage to the Summit and to acquaint themselves with the waste streams of the Summit eco-stations and dispose of their waste correctly.

“The 99% landfill diversion rate from the Summit far exceeded our expectations and we were thrilled with the cooperation and enthusiasm of our students and attendees as we strived for a zero waste event,” said Anne Barr, Executive Director of Sonoco FRESH. “We hope that the success of our event will inspire others to consider what they can do to reduce waste in their personal and professional endeavors.”

Visit the FRESH Summit website for more information on the efforts to make the FRESH Summit a zero waste event.