Reusable tableware for festivals: towards a waste-free event

Bram Merkx October 07, 2023

In this article we take a closer look at the pilot program “Reusable Tableware for Events”, and why this pilot is so important on the road to circularity.

In 2022, Into The Great Wide Open, in collaboration with several partners, made a significant shift towards sustainability by adopting reusable tableware at their festivals. This initiative involved the use of washable and reusable cups, plates, and utensils in both the public areas and backstage. In this article we take a closer look at the pilot program “Reusable Tableware for Events”, and why this pilot is so important on the road to circularity.

The transition to a circular economy has been set in motion, and now it's crucial to accelerate this transition. One area with substantial room for improvement is the reduction of single-use materials, including plastics. In the event sector, most events are moving toward sustainable cup systems, partly due to European and national regulations. However, for food packaging, such as plates, utensils, and hot beverage cups, biodegradable disposable alternatives are often the only option currently available for events. Unfortunately, these disposable biodegradable tableware items are not composted in the current waste system but are incinerated. This means that the sustainability gains are limited to the use of non-fossil raw materials, and lifecycle assessments even indicate that these packaging options could even have a higher carbon footprint compared to their disposable plastic counterparts.


Pilot: Reusable Tableware for Events

An emerging and promising yet relatively unknown solution is reusable tableware. However, there is a significant barrier to implementing these reusable food containers at large outdoor events. Therefore, several leading festivals participating in the Green Deal Circular Festivals decided to take the initiative in 2022 and unite under the broad pilot program: Reusable Tableware for Events. The objectives of this pilot were as follows:

  1. Drive the circular transition in the realm of reusable food packaging.
  2. Provide a proof of concept for festivals, service providers, caterers, attendees, and governments.
  3. Remove barriers through thorough research and the accumulation of knowledge and expertise.
  4. Encourage service providers in the market to offer and scale up their supply of reusable tableware.

The reusable tableware was distributed to festival-goers along with their food and drinks by caterers and bars. After use, the eating utensils were returned to designated bins, while the drinkware was taken back to the bars, where it could be exchanged for a deposit coin. Any tableware left on tables or other areas was collected by the service crew and placed in the bins. The eating utensils were collected at the designated points and sorted backstage in the materials processing area before being placed in delivery crates. Cups were washed and returned to the bars. After the festival, all 200,000 pieces of tableware (combining eating and drinking utensils) were transported back to the mainland for washing.

Through this system, Into The Great Wide Open managed to prevent approximately 150,000 disposable cups and bottles, as well as 200,000 pieces of tableware from being discarded. In total, this transition to a reusable tableware system saved around 350,000 single-use items. This marked a significant step toward achieving the circular goal of eliminating waste and promoting reuse or recycling of materials into new products.


What the pilot program achieved

  • Proof of concept: Two festivals, Into The Great Wide Open and DGTL Festival, implemented reusable food packaging to some extent
  • Scale: Into The Great Wide Open became the first festival to operate entirely with reusable food packaging
  • Knowledge sharing: The pilot program produced a comprehensive research report that documented the knowledge and expertise gained - known as “Mission Reuse”, the project was presented during ADE Green, and experiences related to the Reusable Tableware pilot were made publicly accessible
  • Market development: Generic tableware sets are now introduced by companies like Paardekooper, Green Cups, and SwapBox, creating availability


Want to know more about phasing out single use plastic products? This report by the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management contains findings, conclusions and recommendations for the use of reusable tableware at festivals and events.


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