Food Services of America Move Towards Zero Waste at Oregon Convention Center

November 5, 2013

Food Services of America and the Oregon Convention Center reached a new high mark in their efforts to recycle, reuse or donate. FSA's Trends Show that took place Oct. 22 at the OCC achieved an 86-percent diversion rate, which included 2,080 pounds of pre-consumer food donated to the Oregon Food Bank, enough to provide 1,600 meals to the needy.

 “We have about five food events a year, and while we don’t do this level of tracking for other shows, we can say it is rare to have that kind of commitment,” said OCC Sustainability Coordinator Erin Rowland. “This is about the FSA and OCC working together to be forward thinking and wanting to improve on the past.”

Owned and operated by Metro, the OCC has been on the forefront of sustainability and waste diversion for more than a decade. In 2011, it approached the FSA, one of the largest food distributors in the country, about rethinking its sustainability goals for the Trends Show, then in its second year, and working towards zero waste. 

“It scared me,” said Pamela Lewis, a marketing programs and events manager at the FSA. “I didn’t know how we could do that with a food show of this size because the opportunity for waste is huge.”

She added, “Back in the day, before food waste was an issue that we paid attention to, everyone was throwing food out, even perfectly good food. One thing I learned, eventually, was that here in the United States, we waste enough food to fill the Rose Bowl every day of the year. That stadium fills 95,000 people.”

That “buy-in” is important because the OCC and FSA can’t force vendors and exhibitors to participate in diversion initiatives. But they can encourage them, in part by making sustainability practices accessible and easy to understand.

How did they do it? 

“We offered a training session for exhibitors for the first time,” said Lindsey Newkirk, OCC sustainability program assistant. “We handed out flyers beforehand as we usually do. But since we aren’t sure people read them, we added a 10-minute training session where we went over goals, expectations, and reviewed what goes where, and how food donations work.”

Another improvement was the FSA’s decision to take away those omnipresent trash cans placed at each exhibitor’s booth, which make it easy to toss materials that can be recycled, composted or donated. This year, visitors and exhibitors had to walk to centralized sustainability stations where materials had to be properly disposed.

About 15 OCC staff and volunteers were on hand to engage visitors and attendees with friendly do's and don'ts of proper recycling. They also helped to ensure that during the frantic closing period the materials were properly recycled or donated to the Oregon Food Bank.

Rowland and Newkirk believe this year’s event might serve as a template for future similar food events at the OCC. “If someone has a passion for zero-waste effort, it matters,” Lewis said.

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