As excited as Barbara Bauman was to host 200 guests for the bat mitzvah celebration of her daughter, Evelyn Aizenstein, the environmentally conscious Squirrel Hill resident also had something weighing on her mind: What would she do with all the trash?
Bauman knew she wanted to create as little waste as possible. But, with all those guests — and four separate events planned over the course of the weekend — she also knew that it was not practical for her to compost all the serviceware and food scraps in her own backyard.
“I knew I could buy compostable serviceware, but with 200 guests, where would you compost it?” Bauman wondered.
Bauman’s family composts through Shadyside Worms, which picks up compostable goods curbside each week. But the amount of waste her guests would be generating would need more serious attention. Events included Shabbat dinner and lunch with Congregation Dor Hadash, a Saturday night party at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh and a Sunday brunch at her home.
That’s when an internet search turned up the Pennsylvania Resource Council and its Zero Waste Services.
The PRC is a nonprofit organization launched in 1939 by a group of concerned citizens in Philadelphia. The founders, whose initial project was tackling roadside blight due to billboards, were all members of local garden clubs. After about a decade, the members of the organization began focusing on the challenge of combatting litter; in fact, the group is responsible for the creation of the iconic public service mascot, the litterbug.
In the 1970s, the PRC began working on recycling and other waste diversion efforts.
In 2009 the PRC created Zero Waste Pittsburgh to provide waste reduction services and resources in Western Pennsylvania, and about three years ago, began offering its Zero Waste Kits to businesses, organizations and individuals looking to reduce waste at their events, according to Teresa Bradley, the PRC’s Zero Waste Services Coordinator at the time of Bauman’s event.
Each Zero Waste Kit includes a three-bin system, with each bin identified by signage indicating whether its contents are destined for landfill, recycling or compost.
Those utilizing the Zero Waste Services of PRC must also use compostable serviceware, Bradley said, which can be purchased through PRC or from another vendor subject to PRC approval.
Bauman’s event was the first bar or bat mitzvah for which PRC provided a Zero Waste Kit, according to Bradley, but it is not the first time it has provided services to an event within the Pittsburgh Jewish Community. The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh contracted with PRC for its Zero Waste Services at its 2016 Israel Independence Day event. And in the last year, PRC has provided Zero Waste Services for at least three additional b’nai mitzvahs.
Bauman contracted to have a PRC intern present at the Shabbat lunch to help her guests know where to dispose of their waste. After lunch, the intern then took the bins to the JCC to set up for that evening’s party. The PRC also handles pick-up and proper disposal of the contents of the bins.
“It cost $270 all together,” Bauman said. “That included the bins, the compost disposal and to have someone drop off the bins and pick them up. It included the staff for lunch and to reset on Saturday night.”
Bauman purchased her compostable serviceware from another vendor, she said. “We used no plastic for any of our events. All the compostable forks were very sturdy. They are made out of corn starch and talc. And the process to make those is better for the environment, too, so even if they were to end up in a landfill, it’s a cleaner process.”
At the end of the weekend, Bauman said, “we had almost no trash; just a few Starbucks cups that people had brought in. It was amazing to see.”
The PRC has provided kits for large events as well as gatherings as small as “an outdoor barbeque, a graduation party for about 30 people,” said Bradley.
“At the Pennsylvania Resource Council, we are trying to make it as easy as possible for people to properly divert their waste,” she added. “We want to create awareness that it is possible. It doesn’t matter if it’s a small event or the Three Rivers Arts Festival. It doesn’t matter what size your event is, you can make an impact in reducing your environmental imprint.” PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.