Oak Park Microbrew Review in 2022 | Photo by Javier Govea

From block parties to Beer Fests, more and more events in Oak Park and River Forest have taken on the goal of Zero Waste, aiming to redirect trash from landfills and encourage sustainable practices. 

Gary Cuneen, Founder and Executive Director of Seven Generations Ahead (SGA), has worked to help events such as River Forest’s LemonAid and the Oak Park Microbrew Review reduce their waste. According to Cuneen, planning and communication are key to reaching Zero Waste.

“The easiest way to do Zero Waste events is to just build it into the structure of the event from the beginning,” Cuneen said. “If event producers start with that in mind, then it’s going to be a lot easier to achieve Zero Waste.”

Cuneen said SGA sets up recycling and composting bins at their Zero Waste events with volunteers present to help people sort their trash. It also provides instructions to participating restaurants to ensure they understand what is required of them to ensure Zero Waste. 

If a restaurant or company is noncompliant or not “engendering the spirit” of waste reduction, they will not be invited back the next year, according to Cuneen. 

Particularly with events that serve food and drink, the Zero Waste model offers environmental benefits by reducing the amount of methane released into the air through food decomposition in landfills.

“The big goal is to keep food scraps and other organic materials out of landfills so that that methane is not produced and then that will impact climate change,” Cuneen said. “It’s not one size fits all, but I think structurally, there just has to be clear communication and guidelines upfront.”

In addition to larger community events, smaller gatherings like block parties can also commit to Zero Waste through green block party kits, available in both Oak Park and River Forest. 

Erica Helms, environmental services manager in The Village of Oak Park, said these kits are “very popular.” The kits often include kid-friendly programming, designed to teach children about sustainability and the environment. 

“It’s all about the future. We want to make sure that the youth is knowledgeable and understands how their behavior impacts their community,” Helms said. “The more educated your neighbors are, the more likely that knowledge will spread.”

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