We are SD Zero, the winning team of the 2021 Scripps-Rady Ocean Plastic Challenge.
Our team members include: Julie Hopper (USC Postdoctoral Fellow- science educator, researcher and data analyst), Lauren Hackney (MBA Candidate at UCSD Rady School of Management), Kristina Phipps (Contract Policy Analyst and Attorney at The Nature Conservancy), Tanya Torres (California Sea Grant Extension Fellow working with NOAA’s Marine Debris Program) and Jake Reynolds (The Behavioural Insights Team. Energy, Environment & Sustainability Policy, UK). Please follow our blog to follow our progress on this initiative, as well as plenty of zero-waste tips to help organizations and individuals host and implement events free from single-use plastic!
So, you want to put on a single-use plastic free event?
First of all: Congrats! By being here, you are already part of the effort to make our world a better place- so thank you!
If you’ve never put on an event like this, you must be wondering how to accomplish such a feat? Well, the good news is others have done this very same task and succeeded! Some inspiration and examples of zero-waste events include:
You can purchase reusable serviceware, such as cups, printed with your branded company or event logo. You can charge the event attendees a small cost for the cups when they buy their drinks. They can either keep the reusable cup as a souvenir or return it for their deposit back.
You can ask event attendees to bring their own reusable service ware (cups, plates and utensils, cloth napkins) and then provide washing stations for the attendees.
2. Use compostable paper or bamboo-based materials. Try to stay away from the so-called ‘compostable’ bioplastic materials. Turns out, a lot of those items don’t degrade properly in a landfill, or if they get loose into the environment. So best to avoid them completely. Similarly, avoid single-use recyclable aluminum materials, these are actually worse for the environment than single-use plastic! (Upstream 2021 Report)
4. Source the food and beverages from places that minimize plastic packaging. If you and your friends are preparing all of the food yourself- then opt for buying produce that is not pre-wrapped in plastic (if you have that option). Remember- bagging your produce in a plastic produce bag before you reach the check-out line is unnecessary – Just give it a good wash when you get home.
Steer clear of individually wrapped, “snack size” items like juice boxes, chip bags or cookies. Always buy in bulk!
Instead of providing water bottles at your event, provide filtered water at bottle refill stations.
Provide ice-stations if it is a hot day (and provide tongs so people can help themselves while remaining sanitary)
Provide beer, wine, juice, soda, coffee and/or sparkling water on-tap to fill up all those reusable cups that people have at your event (*glass cups are often not allowed for permitted events!).
In June 2021, our SD Zero Team was announced as the winner of the 6-month long Scripps-Rady Ocean Plastic Pollution Challenge. This accelerator program and competition aimed to create solutions to marine and coastal plastic pollution in San Diego, California. Participants included our five team members and many others that are passionate about solving the plastic pollution problem, with diverse backgrounds ranging across academia, nonprofit organizations, government, industry and other sectors.
For the first three months, we attended virtual sessions with speakers including policymakers, nonprofit leaders, and scholars. Afterwards, we were split into four different research teams (‘Changing Human Behavior’, ‘Evaluation Solutions’, ‘Data Mapping’ and ‘Yes! In my Backyard, San Diego’), each focusing on specific aspects of the plastics pollution problem. After months of research, the program concluded with a final 2-day competition from June 6th-8th where we were divided into new groups and tasked with formulating an innovative systems approach to curbing plastic flow into the Southern California Bight.
During the 48-hr challenge, our team came up with a proposal to implement a zero plastic waste event policy paired with a business accelerator which was vetted by 11 distinguished professionals. Our original proposal centers around a policy change prohibiting single-use plastics at large events in San Diego (> 75 people), in addition to a business accelerator program to provide monetary support and resources to help organizations meet the new zero-waste requirements.
The policy will leverage existing event permitting processes and will require events to be single-use plastic-free or pay a fine and undergo zero-waste training. Events that become plastic-free will be certified as an ‘SD Zero Ocean Hero’ to publicly signify their ocean friendly events.
Over half of the litter collected on beaches in California consists of single-use plastic food and beverage items stemming from events, restaurants, businesses and consumers.
Our proposal is centered around research and data demonstrating the effectiveness of product based bans which remove plastics from the consumer choice context and therefore reduce both plastic usage and the amount of plastic waste that ends up along our coastlines and in our oceans. Similar waste intervention mandates in the San Francisco Farmers Markets have resulted in preventing over 4000 plastic bottles and 1 mil plastic bags from being used and disposed of annually. In another example, Jack Johnson’s ‘All At Once Greening Tour’ (40 concerts) eliminated 36,000 single use plastic bottles and 200,000 single use plastic cups.
Events provide discrete opportunities for piloting and evaluating the impact of interventions. Our team sees this policy proposal as a starting point and ability to create an early concrete success that can eventually be expanded to other jurisdictions across the nation and globe- ultimately leading to cleaner and healthier oceans.
Stay tuned for updates on our progress in passing this initiative.
Want to learn more about plastic pollution sources and solutions around San Diego County? Check out the data mapping ArcGIS story that our team member, Julie Hopper, presented with her data mapping team earlier in the Scripps-Rady Ocean Plastic Challenge.