A Simple Formula for Calculating How Much Waste Your Event Will Generate

October 17, 2019

Julia Spangler

Julia Spangler is the owner of Ecosystem Events, a sustainable events consultancy company. Julia helps organizations and event professionals reduce the environmental impact of their events in order to preserve our planet and deliver powerful sustainability stories. 

You’ve heard me talk a lot about the event waste problem in my articles. But have you ever wondered how much waste your event is actually generating?

For the most accurate answer, the best thing to do is have a sustainability consultant come out to your event to measure. But for a quick estimate, I’ve come up with an easy formula you can use to estimate your event’s waste footprint.

Based on the waste measurement data I’ve collected from 12 events over the last two years, I’ve determined than an event generates an average of 1 pound of waste per attendee per meal.

Meals are typically the biggest generators of waste at events. Most of the events in my data set provided a single primary meal, with a few offering an all-day array of snacks instead. The actual amount of waste per attendee ranged from 0.1 pounds (for an event where most attendees didn’t eat a full meal) to up to 3 pounds (for an event centered around a lavish banquet).

For the simplicity of the formula, we’ll assume that each meal will generate 1 pound of waste per attendee. To calculate an estimate of how much waste your event will generate, multiply the number of attendees by the number of meals you will provide.

Number of attendees X number of meals = estimated pounds of waste

For example, if you’re planning a one-day meeting that provides breakfast, lunch and dinner, and you expect 500 attendees, your formula would look like this:

500 attendees X 3 meals = 1,500 pounds of waste

That’s half the weight of a mid-size sedan!

You can adjust this estimate based on your event design. If you know you’re providing light meals and using only real china and glassware, you could adjust your calculation to 0.5 pounds of waste per guest per meal.

On the other hand, if you’re planning a heavy banquet that could lead to substantial food waste, or if you’re serving on disposable service ware, you may want to adjust your calculation to 1.5 or 2 pounds of waste per guest per meal.

I challenge you to test this formula with the plans for your next event. Is it higher or lower than you expected? Leave a comment and let me know!


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