Posted by Rebecca Neale on Dec 14, 2019
How does a Club make a beloved annual event even more sustainable for future generations? By reducing the amount of trash that goes into landfills. Surprisingly, we made one change that had an enormous impact on our trash footprint. 
The Bedford Rotary Club, and Rotary International, has long been committed to projects that protect and preserve the environment. Here at the Bedford Rotary Club, we have also been committed to giving our community a one-of-a-kind Breakfast with Santa -- for the past 33 years!
Breakfast with Santa attracts over 500 people to the Bedford High School cafeteria, where they enjoy a hearty breakfast, crafts and activities, and picture with Santa that they can bring home. 
Hosting 500 children and caregivers for breakfast can create a lot of waste. 
Fortunately, the Bedford Girl Scouts Reduce Waste Silver Team (Troop 85197) stepped up to compost, recycle, and pour out liquid waste at last year's event. This reduced our trash by 114 pounds in 2018! 
This year, the Reduce Waste Silver Team again stepped up to implement waste reduction activities and educate our attendees. The Club sourced recyclable and compostable items before the event. Whole Foods Bedford donated recyclable utensils and took them back when we were done. We switched to compostable straws, ramekins, and coffee stirrers.
Even better, these changed were funded by a grant from the Bedford Cultural Council, a local agency supported by the Mass Cultural Council, a state agency. 
All of these items -- including the placemat -- are compostable!

Our Biggest Improvement 

One small change had an incredible impact: We stopped using styrofoam trays, and switched to compostable trays. 
Kevin Sullivan Hands Out Our New, Compostable Trays
The properties that make styrofoam such an excellent packaging material for food are the same properties that make it a major problem for our environment. Its waterproof properties and chemical makeup means it never biodegrades. In the meantime, it breaks down into small particles that can choke wildlife and takes up 30% of the world's landfills. The trays get food waste on them, so it didn't make sense to use just a recyclable material (contamination from food is a major barrier to successful recycling). We opted for compostable material and composted an entire leaf bag worth of trays with Black Earth. 
Breakfast with Santa Compostable Waste
This one change -- opting for compostable trays instead of styrofoam -- cost us only $20 more, and diverted 33 pounds of materials to the compost bin, instead of the landfill. All in all, we diverted over 60 pounds of waste that otherwise would have gone into the garbage. 

But wait: There's more! 

Members of the Reduce Waste Silver Team -- Lizzie Morrow, Kate Morrow, Kitty Warhover, Sydney Phylis, Kate Marino and Ameera Saba -- set up an impressive waste reduction station at the event, which included dumping out liquids and returning unused/unopened items.
By pouring liquids down the drain, we reduced our waste by 62 pounds. By returning unopened items for use by someone else, we reduced our waste by 10 pounds. The recyclable utensils reduced our waste by 11 pounds.
Returning unopened items reduced waste by 10 pounds
Our total waste reduction, by making some super simple changes, resulted in diverting 174 pounds of waste from the landfill -- a 60 pound increase over last year!
Lisa Warhover weighs the amount of recycling diverted from the landfill

There is still work to be done

In the future, we will try our best to source compostable coffee cups, use a centralized water dispenser to avoid plastic bottles, and use cloth tablecloths to avoid the plastic ones we currently use. All of these changes take some thought prior to the event (we were too late to request a donated water dispenser from Poland Springs), a little extra funding, and some sweat equity after the event. We hope to get better each year. 
Lastly, imagine the possibilities if the High School were already set up with recycling and/or composting capabilities! There is an ongoing effort by Bedford's Mothers Out Front chapter to get composting into our school cafeterias. If this is something you would support, please contact the Bedford School Committee members and the Bedford Select Board to see how you can help. If we can divert almost 200 pounds of waste at one event with 500 people, imagine how much needlessly goes into the trash at one lunchtime in our schools.
Thanks to the help of the Girl Scout Reduce Waste Silver Team, the Bedford Cultural Council, the custodial staff at Bedford High School, and the attendees who were willing to take an extra minute to put waste in the right receptacles, the Bedford Rotary Club was able to make our annual event even more sustainable for future generations.