student food event

Green Events Guide

The Green Events Guide was developed by the Penn Sustainability Office to help students, faculty, and staff in the Penn community host more environmentally sustainable events. Whether you are hosting a department-wide gathering, a small staff meeting, or a lunch seminar, it is possible for you to significantly minimize waste and conserve natural resources during your next event.

Using the Green Events Guide, any campus event can contribute to the University’s goal of minimizing our environmental footprint. For a full list of Penn-approved caterers and their sustainability capabilities, please visit the Penn Purchasing Services website.

Green Events Basics

Due to restrictions in the regional composting industry, many products labeled "biodegradable" or "compostable" are not accepted by our compost vendor. What this means for the University is that we collect only food waste from most events at which we compost organics. We recommend utilizing a three-stream system: a compost bin for food only*; a recycling bin for plastics, paper, glass, and metal; and a landfill bin for soiled paper products and miscellaneous items. See the signage below for more information!

Even with this three-stream system, events should not be labeled as “Zero Waste” unless less than 10 percent of waste generated is sent to landfill. We have created the "Green Events" guide and designation to stand in as a more honest and transparent substitute to incorrectly using the term "Zero Waste." Our updated Green Events Guide expands upon waste minimization strategies and provides broader range of sustainable practices--beyond just waste--that can be implemented at any event. We encourage your usage of "Green Events" terminology and hope you take advantage of our "Green Events" resources.

landfill signage recycling signage compost signage

You can download PDFs of our standard waste signage for your event here. Check out the Green Events Guide for more information.

*For optimal compliance with composting regulations, please avoid composting meat/bones, fats/oils, paper products, or other "compostable" products. If you are planning on composting at an event with a significant amount of any of these products and need clarification on what is accepted in the compost stream at your particular location, please reach out to for more information.

Quick Facts about Composting

1. What should be composted?

Only food waste.

2. What shouldn’t be composted?

Styrofoam, plastic bags, metal, plastics, foil, sugar packets, individual ketchup packets or similar sauce packets. Our compost hauler does not accept wooden coffee stirrers, "compostable" cups, bowls, plates and utensils, or compostable garbage bags. Even if these materials say they are compostable, Penn cannot compost them! Read more about changes in Penn’s composting policy.

3.Where do I get a compost bin?

You can re-purpose an existing waste container as a compost bin by using a compostable bag liner and clearly marking the content with signage. For composting in your home, you can use a food storage container and keep it in your fridge or freezer!

Check out these Green Events

Email to have your green event added to our page!

students at waste station

student at waste station

students at water station

Green Basketball Game 2018 Family Welcome Picnic 2018 and 2019 Penn Relays