People walking outdoors at an event with food and chair lifts

Green Events Guide

Milwaukee is proud to be the City of Festivals, but we're also a Water Centric City that showcases global leadership in managing our water resources in a sustainable and resilient way. Often times our public events leave our streets and waterways littered with plastic and debris, posing serious threats to the environment and health. Follow these green events considerations to help you take the first steps towards a conscious community event that protects the environment. 

Download a Printable Guide:

Green Events Guide Brochure_English

Guia de Eventos Verdes Folleto_Espanol 

Best to Worst Choices

When making purchases, aim for the best choices you can and work your way to the worst. The best choice starts with reducing waste and the least favorable option is landfilling items.


  • Reduce (BEST CHOICE)
  • Reuse
  • Compost
  • Recycle
  • Landfill (WORST CHOICE)

Event table with plate, silverware, and linen napkinThe best way to keep waste out of our waterways and streets is to buy less and use less. Take a moment before you buy to consider what your event actually needs to be successful.

Do your guests really need plastic bags, handouts and giveaways that will never be used? Or, Is it worth it to buy balloons that will only be used for a few hours and then become waste or float away and end up in our rivers, streams, or lake?

Quick Tips:

1. Choose bulk items like squeeze bottle condiments instead of individual packets.

2. Provide linen napkins instead of paper.

3. Offer individual utensils instead of packets of utensils.

Chafing dishes filled with foodEvery item that gets reused is one less piece of trash. Invest in reusable items. Wash and save them for the next event, rather than buying new items each time. 

Switching to reusable items is easier than ever. Wisconsin State Health Code allows drinkware to be refilled again and again as long as the cup doesn’t touch the pour spout where beverages are served—just like using your own travel mug at your favorite coffee shop.

Quick Tips:

1. Purchase reusable containers, utensils and service ware. 

2. Use chafing dishes instead of disposable aluminum pans.

3. Ask folks to bring their own items with them.

Food in a compost containerEmploying a compost system at your event can significantly reduce the amount of waste going to the landfill, and can also give your food scraps a second life. 

Learn more about composting in Milwaukee.

Quick Tips:

1. Local organizations can help facilitate the compost system and educate your guests. Contact Compost Crusader and Kompost Kids for service.

2. Be sure purchases are actually compostable. Check with the Biodegradable Products Institute or the U.S. Composting Council.

Blue recycling binRecycling is the law in the State of Wisconsin. The City of Milwaukee recycles paper, cardboard, metal cans, glass, and plastics #1, 2, & 5. Styrofoam (Plastic #6 or polystyrene) is not recyclable in Milwaukee and never breaks down in the landfill. A styrofoam-free event is an easy first sustainable step.

Quick Tips:

1. Prevent confusion and contamination by avoiding items that can't be recycled.

2. Collect recycling loose or in an open paper bag, rather than in plastic bags or liners, otherwise it will be landfilled. 

3. Recyclables normally accepted at the curbside can be brought to one of the City's two Drop Off Centers for no charge.

Contact Milwaukee Recycles to secure recycling containers for your event, learn what's acceptable in the recycling, and find details on drop-off sites.


Trash bags piled on one anotherWe know it’s impossible to completely prevent sending waste to the landfill. Be sure to always have adequate trash receptacles to prevent contamination of recycling and compost bins, and to prevent litter from ending up on the ground or blowing away.

Quick Tips:

1. Aim for the trifecta of bins: compost, recycling, and landfill.

2. Place each bin in a row and provide clear and consistent labeling to guide action.

Up Your Green Game

  • Public Transit
  • Reusable Containers
  • Say No to Balloons
  • Smarter Marketing
  • Get Creative

Woman riding a bicycleConsider public transportation when selecting your event venue. 

  • Is there a Bublr station nearby?
  • Access to The Hop streetcar?
  • Can people carpool?

Not only will you reduce your event’s footprint, but your guests will thank you for easing the stress of parking.


Woman carrying a reusable water bottlesWe all know how hot events can get in the summertime. Encourage your guests to stay healthy and hydrated while saving money.

  • Ask your guests to bring reusable water bottles.
  • Provide refillable water stations.


Child with bubbles at an eventSay no to balloon launches. What goes up must come down. Balloons are one of the most common plastics found during envrionmental cleanup efforts.

Instead of balloons, try fun, eco-alternatives:

  • Bubbles
  • Flower petals
  • Compostable confetti
  • Bird seed


Person using a reusable cloth bagAdvertise smarter, not harder. The rise of social media has made advertising for your event even easier, so why waste time covering the city with fliers?

  • Instead of hundreds of small posters, try a few large ones in highly-trafficked areas.
  • Ask your collaborators to share event information with their friends and family.
  • Get creative.

Give greener swag. Aim for sustainable, locally sourced giveaways that everyone can use to reduce waste every day:

  • Reusable cloth bags
  • Metal water bottles
  • Travel mugs
  • Native seed packets


Rock the Green concert with bike pedal powered stageThink outside of the box! The possibilities are endless to make an event green. Pair your event’s goals with sustainability initiatives to create something truly unique.

Rock the Green is an award-winning producer of green events that coordinates zero waste efforts. Rock the Green’s Sustainability Festival features a Pedal Powered Stage using energy from stationary bikes to run:

  • Microphones
  • Speakers
  • Lights
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