So what exactly is Zero Waste?

New Orleans City Park loves its employees and the Earth! It would not be possible to maintain the 1,300 acres of green space that make up New Orleans City Park without the passion and hard work of the Park’s employees. To show that commitment to our people and our environment, New Orleans City Park hosted its annual Employee Appreciation Crawfish Boil recently, and, for the first time ever, it was a nearly Zero Waste event.
With close to 100 attendees, several hundred pounds of crawfish, trays of jambalaya, vegetables, snowballs, cake, and refreshments, the potential for creating waste was huge. But instead of just accepting that trash as the result of a good party, we turned to composting and recycling to give our trash another life!
Eco-friendly; environmentally responsible; sustainable and biodegradable—no matter how you say it, reducing our environmental impact is essential to maintaining the health of our planet. One way we can do this is by incorporating Zero Waste practices into Park events, in our work, and as a daily habit.
So what exactly is Zero Waste? The goal of Zero Waste is to divert as much waste as possible from entering a landfill. As a result of the massive amounts of trash dumped in landfills each day, these sites contain very little oxygen. Trash is buried in an anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment, and decomposition can only occur with the help of slow-working bacteria. As these bacteria break down trash, they release methane, a potent greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere and contributes to global climate change. According to the EPA, in 2015, landfills were responsible for 15.4% of methane emissions in the atmosphere.  By reducing the amount of waste that we send to landfills, we can also reduce the amount of methane that enters the atmosphere.
It may sound difficult, but with some extra planning, responsible buying, education, and group participation, it is surprisingly easy to move towards Zero Waste! This year at the Employee Appreciation Crawfish Boil, all food and drinks were served in compostable trays, plates, and cups, with compostable forks, spoons, and napkins. As employees finished their meals, they simply dumped food scraps and food containers into a compost bin, to be picked up by The Composting Network and turned into nutrient-rich soil! Employees recycled plastic water bottles and aluminum soda cans, giving them a second life as a beverage container or the possibility of becoming something completely new!  And all that was left to throw in the trash cans were plastic straws, hand-sanitizing towelettes, and disposable tablecloths.
So…how close to Zero Waste did we get? We composted 510 pounds of food waste, collected close to 12 pounds of recycling, and only sent about 18 pounds of trash to the landfill. That means we achieved a 96.7% waste diversion rate, and only sent 3.3% of all event waste to the landfill.
With the help of New Orleans City Park employees, our Park is becoming greener every day. We encourage our visitors to participate in these sustainability efforts by picking up litter in the park and recycling or composting when possible. 
Written by:
Johanna Gundlach
Sustainability Coordinator
jgundlach@nocp.org