One of my big goals for this zero waste to make zero waste a greater part of my community. The simplest way of doing that is – well – actually getting out into the community. The big way I’ve been reaching a bigger audience offline is to host a zero waste table at local events.
Hosting a zero waste table at an event can be scary. You never really know who will walk up and how they’ll interact with what’s likely a new concept for them. Luckily, I’ve had nothing but positive experiences during the times I’ve hosted a table at various events.
I thought I’d share about the process of creating a zero waste table concept and actually executing it in this post. It’s easier than you think and has probably only cost me about $10 to pull it all together.
build your reputation
The fact is it’s going to be way harder to get invited to or be accepted into events if you’re just a random person. Many events only offer free entry to community groups, and it can be a bit harder to provide proof of community benefit if you have no social proof to bag it up.
The good news is there are plenty of ways to build a zero waste reputation in your local community:
- Join an existing group. If your town or city already has a dedicated meet-up group but hasn’t taken it to the next level, why not be the organizer?
- Create your own zero waste community. If no one’s taken the plunge yet, start a local zero waste group! For a full run-down on doing it, here’s how I started a local zero waste group.
- Start a website and share your knowledge. Share your zero waste experiences online and build a community that way.
choose a theme for your table
No matter what events you’re trying to attend, it’s best to have a theme for your table. That makes it easier to explain to event organizers – and event goers – what value you’ll provide. Remember, a lot of folks don’t have any idea of what zero waste is, so something easily explainable is key.
My table focus has generally been cheap or easy zero waste swaps. I find it most helpful to introduce people to the idea of zero waste with simple swaps they can make without investing any money. Especially in an area where there isn’t necessarily an assumed high disposable income, easy and cheap were my two factors.
Whatever theme you decide on, make sure that it’s a part of zero waste that A) resonates with you and B) you have sample material easily accessible. Other table ideas I’ve had:
- zero waste DIY projects. Show off your cleaning sprays, toiletries, food creations, and more!
- zero waste grocery shopping step-by-step. Many people are confounded by bulk shopping. If you have bulk options, walk them through taring/filling/PLU codes/checkout, etc.
- #banthestraw(your town). A bit more work, but getting people interested in a local initiative like this is a cool idea. Capture people’s information (more on that later) and show local restaurants how many people are excited about the idea.
Think critically about the community you’re looking to reach and what their capabilities are. Pair that with your zero waste strengths and you’ve got an epic zero waste table!
find an event
Obviously it’s pretty important to find an actual event that can host your table. I’m writing this in the summer, which is prime-time for these sorts of events. But don’t worry if you’ve missed a deadline for an important event, there are options year-round.
Spring/Summer: farmers markets, street/neighborhood festivals, concerts, etc.
Winter/Fall: start of semester events at colleges, indoor farmers markets, holiday fairs, etc.
NB: be sure to touch base with any event in which there’s a fee. Some events do offer a not-for-profit or community group discount/free entry, but if they don’t – ask! Explain you’re a community group that isn’t selling anything. There’s a decent chance you may have your fees waived.
decide on your level of commitment
One of the things I really struggled with was deciding how much to commit to – materially and, by extension, financially. I wanted signage that not only identified Green Indy, but would be durable for more than a few events.
I started out in the cheap end of things, but since I’ve committed to many events I think I can justify the money and resources needed to create a more permanent solution.
Doing it on the cheap
- Branding: having a easily-seen sign is key. I bought a second-hand tablecloth and fabric paint to create mine. You could also use a chalkboard or paint an A-frame sign if you can find one.
- Signage: this is pretty easy if you’ve decided on the focus for your table. Since mine is all about easy swaps, I have different signs showing the statistics for how many plastic bags, straws, and bottles we use every year with low-waste alternatives next to them. I printed them in color and them laminated them for longer-wear.
- Props: this will also depend on your table’s theme. Enough that people have something to explore and start a conversation about – and you can totally bring the things you actually use yourself day-to-day. (Oh, and be sure you don’t care if people touch them!)
- Freebies: on a zero budget, I’m planning to offer a zero waste city guide for those who sign up by email for more information. Then I’ll also have their contacts for future events!
In it for the long run
- Branding: I’m considering ordering a real, printed banner or sign for future table events. This company offers eco-friendly signage which is made from recycled material and is also easily recyclable.
- Signage: I’d keep this consistent with what I’m already doing. High-quality graphics printed and laminated, unless you wanted to get professional-level infographics along with your banner.
- Props: it may be wise to invest in prop items that aren’t your own, ie. items meant specifically for zero waste tabling events.
- Freebies: form a partnership with a company and offer a free zero waste item to interested participants? Reusable straws or produce bags are fun, relatively cheap ways of engaging with the community.
Hosting a zero waste table at an event does not have to be expensive; in fact, it shouldn’t be if this is not a full-time gig for you. My current table has cost me about $10 in materials for the tablecloth sign. Everything else I either already owned or was able to do for free.
capture that audience!
So what happens after you have a brief chat with someone at your table? Even the most interested person can forget as they wander through an event and carry on with their life. I suggest creating a cool freebie that will keep zero waste on people’s minds.
Some suggested print-outs, which I have two problems with. 1) Passing out single-use fliers for a zero waste cause seems a bit counter-intuitive and 2) that puts the burden of reconnecting on the person.
I’ve decided to collect email addresses. This is great because now you have the power to reach out to people and let them know about future events they may be interested in.
How to get those emails? Offer something useful! I have a beginner zero waste PDF (available for download at the bottom of this post) but I also have a small “Zero Waste Lafayette” city guide that gives people ideas on how to go zero waste specifically here in Lafayette.
You get emails, they get valuable knowledge. Win-win.
Are you convinced that you need to have a zero waste table at an event? It’s really fun to meet new people and chat about your experiences – and this is coming from the strongest introvert of all!