The Petoskey Rotary Club’s Spaghetti Dinner was held for the 68th time Thursday night, making it what might be called a “venerable tradition.” At the same time, in the area of recycling and composting, it is a cutting edge leader.
The spaghetti dinner fundraiser was the first event in the area to achieve “zero waste”—meaning it cut its garbage from a 2017 baseline by over 90 percent. The event serves roughly 900 all-you-can-eat spaghetti dinners a year in the Petoskey High School cafeteria. In years prior to the zero-waste initiative, it typically ended with 20 garbage bags full of plastic utensils and Styrofoam plates and cups destined to spend eternity in area landfills, most recently the Republic Service dump south of Onaway. Even worse, under the low-oxygen conditions landfills are designed to create, the food scraps in those bags decompose anaerobically, creating methane, a greenhouse gas 70 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
This year, the dinner’s garbage was limited to a few ice cream buckets. Made of a combination of paper, plastic, and metal, they were not recyclable.
Emmet County Recycling staffer Lindsey Walker said, “Ideally Rotary’s dinner would eliminate waste entirely by serving on real dishes, but the schools no longer have them–or the dishwashers needed to sanitize them. So Rotary has gone with recyclables and compostables.”
This year coffee, punch, milk, and water were served in recyclable paper cups. Compostable paper plates and special compostable plastic cutlery were collected in compostable plastic “garbage” bags, all of which were picked up by Emmet County’s commercial food scraps collection program. They will be composted at Emmet County’s Pleasantview Road Drop-off Center. The resulting compost is sold bagged or in bulk at the site.
Each year the event organizers have targeted more waste items. This year, for example, they got rid of butter packets instead making butter available with compostable sauce cups. According to Petoskey Rotary Club member Kassia Perpich, Rotarians enjoy the creative challenge of designing a zero-waste event for the community. “This is the third year in a row that we’ve done this. It’s fun to think about how all the materials we use at the spaghetti dinner will ultimately wind up recycled or in residents’ lawns and gardens as compost,” said Perpich.
The impact of Rotary’s zero-waste spaghetti dinner has extended far beyond this one evening a year. When organizers of other events learned of the zero-waste option, they wanted to do it too. Irish Boat Shop served 1,000 sailors at its Ugotta Regatta Party and produced less than one bag of garbage, Walstrom Marine had less than two gallons of garbage after serving 200 at its Summer Preview Party, and the Crooked Tree Arts Center gets special recognition for using all reusable ceramic and glass dishes and metal cutlery at its D’art for Art. Blissfest has a zero-waste goal for 2020. The Back Lot Beer Garden has operated on a zero-waste model since opening in the summer of 2018. And, the Grain Train has recycled, collected food scraps to be fed to farm animals, and composted for decades. (The cooperative has also sponsored the Rotary spaghetti dinner by paying for the compostable serviceware.) The food scraps collected from these events and businesses have contributed to Emmet County collecting 1.6 million pounds of food-related compostables since it began accepting them in late 2015.
Those interested in learning more about producing an event with zero-waste can visit EmmetRecycling.org. The site’s zero-waste events page has tips for everything from weddings to year-round businesses.
No Trash Here! In these four bags and six carts, compostable plastic cutlery, paper plates, and food scraps from the Rotary Club of Petoskey’s annual spaghetti dinner awaited pick up by Emmet County’s Commercial Food Scraps Collection program. The fundraiser served roughly 900 all-you-can-eat dinners, yet produced just the 520 gallons of compostables shown here, 96 gallons of recyclables, and a handful of non-recyclable fused paper/plastic/metal ice cream buckets. Having cut its waste by 90% compared to the event’s 2017 level, the dinner qualifies as “zero waste.”