Recently I’ve had several people message me rather enviously on Instagram, saying “I’m so jealous you have other zero waste people to hang out with! I wish there were zero waste meetups near me!” I get it! Online community is great. However, having a local group can be even more vital to the success of your zero waste journey.
But there seems to be a misconception that a mid-sized city in Indiana (of all places) had a vibrant zero waste community I just inserted myself into.
I started a Facebook group. I harassed people relentlessly on Instagram. I hustled my ass off getting people to a zero waste meetup and workshop.
Why you need to be the spark
Outside of major cities most places don’t have a dedicated, active zero waste group. That’s not to say there aren’t people interested, it’s just that no one has taken the initiative to bring a community to life. If you’re like me, you probably don’t want to be that person. Unfortunately, you probably need to be.
Because the truth is, as an individual you’re kind of useless. (Sorry, sorry – you’re great.) Band together and you’ve got much more power to influence change in your specific community.
It can be lots of work. It can be awkward to plan when only one other person shows up. But here’s the thing: a group cannot form without a focal point, especially at the start.
The good news is creating an intentional community of like-minded folks shouldn’t be a one-person task. I love this passage from Lamanda Joy’s Start a Community Food Garden about leadership and organizing:
It is important to understand the difference between leadership and organizing… Leaders create visions that people want to follow; and while that vision may require management and nuturing over time, it is a top-down scenario. Leaders are required to articulate their vision to move people in a specific direction.
Organizing, however, harnesses the power of consensus to create a shared vision and shared direction. The organizer’s job isn’t to push people toward his or her personal dream, but to foster a collective goal, to help build community around that goal, and to inspire people to take on responsibility through action…
Truth be told, your organization may need a little bit of both approaches.
So while your local zero waste community may be a dictatorship at the start, don’t worry. Eventually you’ll find a great group of folks who will be more than willing to share the load.
Until then, here’s how to plan and execute your very first zero waste meetup.
1. Psych yourself up – just do it
As I mentioned above, there’s probably a good chance no formal zero waste group exists in your community. This makes it hard to gauge interest, but you’ve got to start somewhere. There’s no perfect time, perfect place, or perfect group of people waiting for you.
But to be honest, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the amount of people who are interested in zero waste, already dedicated to zero waste, or just curious about the idea – no matter where you are.
Once you decide to pull the trigger, make sure you rope in at least one person you already know to commit to attending the first meetup. Whether it’s a friend, family member, or interested co-worker, lock in at least one other person. It’ll make you accountable – and give you a group of three, even if only one other person shows up!
It helps to have a central point for sharing information. It could be a Facebook page or even your own dedicated blog. You can start a carbon positive blog with GreenGeeks! There is also a TON of detailed information on how to do this in week five of the Zero Waste 101 email course.
2. Find a good spot
Probably the most important bit of the whole event: where to host it.
From attempts to organize meetups all over the world, I’ve found it’s pretty universal to post up in a coffee shop. Although you should buy something to support the company, a coffee shop also allows people who don’t have the money to pay for an expensive coffee to just come and sit in.
Coffee shops make sense when you consider my criteria:
- was locally owned
- wouldn’t mind a group of people hanging around for an hour or so
- didn’t cost to host an event
- showed some interest/inclination toward zero waste
Other spots you might consider: the public library, co-working spaces, eco-friendly businesses, or even a local park or garden if they weather’s nice.
Once you get a larger, more dedicated group of people showing up, then you can move on to more intricate meetups. Workshops, guest speakers, and events with some kind of buy-in are all next level ideas when you get there. More on that later.
3. Create a general theme
Just deeming an event “a meetup” leaves the option open for a lot of awkward interactions; the event will be entirely dependent on how naturally sociable everyone is.
With a theme, there’s an immediate topic available. (But to my last point: don’t get too elaborate in the beginning. A simple topic is more than enough!) At least then if no conversation flows naturally, you’ll have a starting point. Once you get chatting, you’ll have no problem keeping it going!
Simple theme ideas for your first zero waste meetup:
- show and tell: have people bring an item that has been helpful to them in their zero waste journey. Surefire way to create more questions and get people interested!
- quick tutorial: show off a quick skill you think people would find useful. I did a furoshiki tutorial near Christmas. You could show people how to tare a jar, share a zero waste snack, etc.
- resource sharing: host a meetup and create something useful by the end! Pool your knowledge to create a shareable document full of all the places you can get unpackaged goods in your area.
4. Promote the event
While I get much deeper into how to promote your zero waste meetup effectively in this post, there are a few simple ways you should consider getting the word out about your event. All of these are free ideas because, especially at the beginning, free advertising is more than enough.
Here are the three basic ways I promoted my first events. I’m not a big Facebook fan, but I use it pretty heavily here. Everyone from your high school enemy to your grandma has a profile and you can get location-specific.
- Create a Facebook event. Make sure you use nice pictures, have engaging text, and set the location so people browsing for local events will be able to find it. When you share it, be sure to tag relevant organizations in your community in the hopes that they share it.
- Through relevant Facebook groups. Join local ‘free’ or other eco-friendly groups in your community and share the event with them.
- Send a ‘press release’ to your local paper. Most local papers have a dedicated email address for people to send tips or story ideas, so send some information that way. If you know a local reporter specifically, even better!
Other sites to spread the word:
- Meetup: while I don’t use it personally, Meetup is very popular and can be an easy way to attract members to your group. The site also allows you to create events within the group.
- Instagram: if you don’t mind using a personal account (or creating a community account), Instagram’s location-specific tags in both pictures and stories is a great way to reach local people.
5. Don’t put too much pressure on the event.
While I’m terrible at doing this, it’s important to manage your expectations. If it’s your first time hosting an event, get excited about each and every person who came by to join! Sure, there might not have been 200 people, but those four people who showed up sure were excited to be there!
If nothing else, putting together an event gets the ball rolling on a zero waste network in your area. Just knowing there are a few people like you (especially in areas without a strong presence of the eco-minded) is a huge motivation factor!
Plus, after an initial meetup or two, consider holding a workshop – providing an item or skill to take away is a huge draw for people, whether they’re zero waste or not.
In the end, my best advice would be to just keep trying. Even if you only get two or three committed people, you can no longer say you’re going it alone.