The Green Room

I run a sustainable waste management company for events. AMA

My name is James Watson and I am the Founding Ninja of Green Event Ninjas, where we do not plan events but rather help those that do, do so in a more sustainable manner. One of the ways we do this is by helping large festivals and events with their recycling and waste diversion initiatives. For some, we’ve helped introduce recycling to their events for the first time, while for others we’ve helped advance an existing waste diversion program further.

While we’re based in Toronto, we’ve had the opportunity to work on events across Canada and the U.S., including the RBC Canadian Open PGA tournament in Toronto, the Made by Google product launch event in New York, the Vegandale Food + Drink Fest across several cities, and many others.

I’ll be here to answer your questions live on 2020-09-15T15:00:00Z2020-09-15T16:00:00Z.

You’ll need to sign up to the forum to take part.

Once you have signed up, feel free to add this to your calendar by clicking the three dots in the invitation above.

Talk soon!


Hi James,
Thanks for doing this AMA! What led you to set up Green Event Ninjas?

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Hello! James is here and ready to roll so please keep your questions coming!

Over to you James…

Hey everyone! I’m excited to be here. :slight_smile:

I’ll start with Legacy’s question to get things going:

I was working in the corporate sustainability sphere, hosting my own networking event and attending a tonne of other industry events. I noticed that even at a lot of these events in the sustainability sphere, I was still drinking out of styrofoam cups and seeing all sorts of unsustainable practices.

My thinking was that if the sustainability industry wasn’t getting this right, the broader events industry must be having an even tougher time with it too. So I asked myself, “how can I make sustainability easy for event professionals?” After a while, event waste management presented itself as a great first step.

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Hi James,
Thanks for the AMA! At what stage would an event professional appoint you and can you share how you would reduce waste at a typical festival?

Are you aware of any differences between the way that events are run in Europe and in North America, in terms of waste management?


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Hi James,
What are the biggest challenges in events’ waste management? Plastic items? Food waste? …

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Hi James, what sort of questions should we be asking of venues/festivals to ensure they dispose of their waste sustainably

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Hey @Jonny,

The best stage for us to come in is at the beginning of the planning process. The easiest events for use to work with are the ones that contact us a year. Granted, we have been contacted days before some very large events when a supplier fell through or the event planner’s client suddenly demanded some green services, and we’ve had a lot of fun helping with those too.

In terms of how we help, I like to follow the “garbage in, garbage out” approach. So if we can help manage or reduce the amount of waste going into an event (e.g. plastic cups), than we can better manage the waste streams on the back end.

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I don’t have any first hand experience with events in Europe but from what I can see online and people I’ve spoken with, Europe is definitely ahead of the curve in terms of waste mitigation and diversion.

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Hi James! Excited to take part in this AMA.

Personally I find it so confusing that each Borough in the U.K. has different ways of dealing with waste (two completely different coloured bins for recycling in neighbouring boroughs for example). Do you happen to know why there isn’t a universal colour coding system for waste management? It would certainly help loads, especially when running events in new areas :slight_smile:

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Is it a cop out if I say that it really depends on the client and the event?

It’s really all about the client’s appetite for “going green,” so to speak. Some of our clients want to go all the way, but most are a little wary and are balancing all sorts of competing priorities within their organisation and the budget they’re working with. We do our best to tailor a sustainable waste management solution that best fits their needs, while encouraging them to think towards advancing that in the long term.

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Hey @Lau,

Are you asking as an attendees or as an event planner renting the venue space?

If you’re an attendee, just ask! It’s the tough questions that get people thinking about what they may be able to do to green their events. Many of my clients have cited their attendee’s or other stakeholders’ questions as a motivation for contacting Green Event Ninjas.

As an event planner, you have an opportunity to engage in a dialogue with a venue about their waste management practices. One word of caution I’d say, however, is not just to take a venue’s word for it that they’ll recycle. Consider how you’ll proactively monitor and confirm that the waste diversion is occurring properly during and after your event.

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I’ve literally stationed our Recycling Ninjas at the dumpsters at a large convention centre to ensure that quality, uncontaminated (i.e. properly sorted) recycling was going into them. You have to advocate on behalf of your event.

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Hi James,
A question we often get from eventprofs is - how can I measure the different wastestreams at my event so I can report on this?

Also, do you have any photos of sustainable event waste management setups that you approve of, so we can see visually what we should be aiming for?

Yep! This is always a fun one to figure out. Many regions will require different coloured trash bags based on the waste stream. In Nova Scotia, Canada, they require that you have garbage in clear bags so that they can see if you’re putting too much recycling in it!

In terms of look, I suspect it’s a cultural thing and the way the recycling industry was evolving in a decentralized kind of way. Plus, the types of materials that they can accept as recycling is different from region-to-region due to the type of local recycling facilities that can process them.

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What are the wastestreams that a “typical” client should be focusing on?

There are a few ways you can approach this:

  1. You can rely on the weightings that your dumpster rental/waste hauling company provides you. The weights will often be included with your invoice or you’ll have to request them separated. A word of caution, however, is that many of these companies won’t provided accurate weights if a dumspter is below a certain amount (e.g. 1 or 2 tons), so this method is best used for larger events with much higher waste throughputs.

  2. You could complete an detailed on-site waste audit of a sample of the general event waste. This will give you a much better idea of its composition and could help spark ideas on how to reduce waste in the future.

  3. A combination of the two above.

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Phew! A lot of questions! :slight_smile:

Yes, I do. They’re not handy at the moment, however. To be honest, I’ve been keeping a collection photos of “the good, the bad and the ugly” of event waste management. My friends are always a little embarrassed when I begin taking photos of garbage bins at events.

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I always advise clients to walk before they run. If they’ve never had a recycling stream at their event, then just start with that in Year 1. If they’ve been doing recycling quite well for awhile, then I’d encourage them to begin thinking about organics diversion, or even more granular recycling, like separating cardboard from the single-stream recycling.

It’s better to bite off what you can chew so that we can celebrate those victories and have a good case for building on it in subsequent events or years.

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