Ritzy Recycling and Classy Compostables: A Charleston Affair goes zero waste

Zero Waste volunteers at A Charleston Affair in 2014. The event will be zero waste for the second year in a row. (Photo courtesy of the Office of Sustainability)

Zero Waste volunteers at A Charleston Affair in 2014. The event will be zero waste for the second year in a row. (Photo courtesy of the Office of Sustainability)

A Charleston Affair creates a sense of glamour, a chance to celebrate success, an excuse for friends to party one last time before graduation – and a lot of trash.

The historic event, which was created in 1900 to celebrate the College, hosted about 5,000 graduating seniors and alumni last year and generated almost 6,000 pounds of waste – that’s over one pound of waste per person. Prior to 2014, all of this waste ended up in the Bees Ferry landfill. Thanks to the Office of Sustainability, the amount of landfill waste generated at A Charleston Affair is now much lower.

Last year, the Office of Sustainability decided to make A Charleston Affair zero waste, which is defined by industry standards as diverting over 90 percent of total waste from the landfill. They far surpassed their goal, creating 2,000 pounds of compost, 3,400 pounds of a recycling, and 413 pounds of landfill waste – a diversion rate of 94 percent. Not only was this event significant for the College, but it made history in the region as the largest zero waste event in the Southeast.

And this weekend, May 9 and 10, the Office is about to make history again. By switching from fossil-fuel based service ware to plant based service ware at A Charleston Affair, the Office hopes to increase its composting rate, which is a more sustainable process than recycling.

“Composting is a pretty new thing especially here in the Southeast,” said Jen Jones, Facilities Coordinator at the Office of Sustainability. “People don’t know that we’ve chosen to use compostable materials, especially the compostable plastics – they look just like regular plastics.”

A volunteer works at a waste station inside A Charleston Affair. (Photo courtesy of the Office of Sustainability)

A volunteer works at a waste station inside A Charleston Affair. (Photo courtesy of the Office of Sustainability)

The College’s zero waste goals extend far beyond a single weekend event, though. Jones spoke to the institutional significance of making A Charleston Affair zero waste for the second year in a row. “The College has a goal to be a Zero Waste Institution by the year 2025,” she said.  “By showing that we can make an event as large as A Charleston Affair a Zero Waste Event, we are showing the campus that it is totally possible to do it for the majority of the other events that happen on campus.” Because events generate a large portion of the College’s waste profile, Jones hopes that if the College’s largest event of the year can be zero waste, its other events can be, too.

It will take time to teach the college community how to properly dispose of different types of waste, though, and until then, the Office relies on volunteers to mitigate waste contamination. At the event last year, volunteers staffed every waste disposal station in the venue and helped people separate their recyclables, compostables and landfill waste into separate containers. A second team of volunteers checked the waste containers after they were full to ensure that there was no cross mingling of the different types of waste.

“We’re so trained as a society to just dump things in a trash can that having a person at the point of disposal to engage with guests and help them get things where they belong is absolutely critical for the success of a Zero Waste event!” Jones said.

The Office also collaborates with the Physical Plant, Dining Services, Food Waste Disposal, College of Charleston Alumni Relations and more to make the event possible.

If you are interested in helping the Office make A Charleston Affair zero waste again this year, sign up to volunteer here!

 

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