5 Ways to Offer Sustainable Community Programs (Besides Plastic Straw Bans)

Environmental tips for parks and recreation

If you’ve been following the news lately, you’ve probably heard about the plastic straw bans. Communities are banding together to outlaw the use of plastic straws, whether it be in restaurants, coffee shops, or fast food establishments. What do straws have to do with sustainable community programs?

The individual plastic straws we all use and throw away, along with a multitude of other disposable plastics1, contribute to the global problem of hundreds of tons of plastic trash in our oceans. The floating plastic harms wildlife and ecosystems in dozens of ways. Fish, birds and other sea creatures can consume plastic, which they can’t digest, or they may be harmed by choking, suffocation, or other horrible outcomes. Several corporations, including Alaska Airlines, Royal Caribbean Cruises and Ikea, have declared their operations2 straw-free, and city and state governments have introduced legislation to outlaw them. New York City, Hawaii, and California all have pending straw ban legislation3, and Seattle, Washington has already enacted laws against straws.

As straw bans become increasingly popular, community organizations are finding ways to pitch in to help save our oceans as well. Beyond taking plastic straws out of rotation at your community center’s snack bar or reducing the number of plastic bottles you use, there are several other ways that you can engage your community and help promote environmentally friendly practices at your recreational facility. Creating sustainable community programs can save your program money in the long term, as well.

Reduce Plastic Disposables at your Recreation Facilities

One course of action is to jump on the straw ban bandwagon and find ways to reduce the use of plastics at your facilities. Banning plastic straws and plastic bags is a good start, although you will need to be sensitive to the needs of any disabled constituents4 who may need straws to be able to drink. There are alternatives to plastic straws available, including reusable glass or aluminum straws as well as disposable paper straws. Consider running a community-wide poll on which options they would prefer.

Pro tip: encourage the use of reusable water bottles in your facilities with designated water filling stationsYou can also encourage your community members to use reusable water bottles, especially steel or glass ones that are BPA-free. You could sell single-use water bottles and advertise the locations of your water fountains to make it as easy as possible to hydrate on-the-go. If you have the budget for it, installing water fountains with a built-in bottle filler feature can help make the transition even easier for your community members.

Another great way to encourage your constituents to use reusable water bottles is to give away or sell some that are branded with the logo of your parks and recreation department or other organization. This allows you to increase your department’s visibility in the community and encourage community members to reduce their plastic usage at the same time.

Here are a few ways to reduce disposable plastic at your recreation center:

  • Offer reusable alternatives like water bottles or cups
  • Give a discount or other perks to participants who bring their own reusable items
  • Find vendors who use sustainable or less packaging for office supplies

Digitize Business Operations to Save Paper and Trees

Plastic isn’t the only problem facing our environment. Paper is another highly recyclable yet very disposable item that we all use every day. While it may not have the immediate harmful impact on wildlife that plastic does, paper still contributes to waste in our landfills. More importantly, the way paper is manufactured is harmful to the environment5. It takes twice as much energy to produce paper as to produce plastic bags, and the process also contributes to deforestation.

According to our research6  you may be wasting more paper than you think if you’re still using paper forms. Over 30% of paper forms end up illegible, and those forms end up in the trash. Also, if paper forms need to be updated, you have to use more paper, and the old forms are once again tossed in the trash. Solution like ACTIVE Net, can assist with this transition

If you’re looking to reduce the paper your community organization uses, schedule your free demo of ACTIVE Net today.


Introduce recycling programs to reduce landfill waste

Paper and plastic are both recyclable and reusing or recycling them is another great way to reduce your community center’s impact on the environment. In fact, 60% of parks and recreation agencies have committed to reducing landfill waste7 by introducing recycling programs in their communities in a variety of ways:

Recycling drop-off

People know that most plastics, paper, and aluminum cans are recyclable, but community members are less likely to recycle their waste products if it’s a difficult process. Make it easy by prioritizing recycling throughout your facilities in both words and action.

Communities that don’t have at-home or curbside recycling programs can benefit from your department taking the lead. Work with your local waste management agency to develop messaging around what items are recyclable and where drop-off bins are located. You can even designate your facilities as drop-off points for recyclables, which will help increase the number of visitors to your parks and recreation facilities. Be sure to advertise the location of these drop-offs so that everyone is aware of their availability. You can also provide special event recycling bins and collection at any of the community events your program supports.

Upcycling classes

Another great idea is to hold upcycling8 events, encouraging community members to bring in items they might otherwise throw away and turn them into something new. Offer classes on how to reuse furniture, clothes, and other used items into art, jewelry, furniture, or other useful household items. You can also encourage community members to swap items or gift them instead of throwing them in the trash.

Environmental education for all generations

Equipping future generations with education about conservation and sustainability is one of the best ways your program can have a positive, lasting impact9 on the environment. You can accomplish this through youth engagement opportunities, including:

  • Community compost gardens
  • Nature explorer programs
  • Kid clean-up events
  • Nature-based play spaces

Education isn’t just for kids, though. Including adults in your education program can have an enormous impact on environmental sustainability in your community. You can hold seminars or informational sessions for adults on best practices and immediate environmental needs in your community to help them learn how to live sustainably. Some ideas for instructional classes or programs include:

  • How to make rain gardens
  • How solar energy can be applied to building spaces
  • Rain barrel or compost teach-ins (with sales from local gardening stores)

Beyond recycling

While promoting and enabling recycling in your community is important and highly worthwhile, recycling alone simply isn’t enough. To have an even greater impact on environmental sustainability10 in your community, promote making environmentally friendly choices beyond recycling, such as:

  • Refusing disposable plastic items when dining at a restaurant, staying at a hotel, etc.
  • Reusing existing items, especially those that can’t be recycled
  • Lobbying producers to use less packaging
  • Buying locally to reduce CO2 emissions from deliveries and shipping
  • Speaking up to politicians at the local and federal level to encourage legislative reform

Lead by Example in Public Spaces

Water conservation11 is important on the local level, and water is quickly becoming one of our most precious resources. Using less water reduces contamination by reducing the amount of used water runoff overall, as well as strain on septic and sewage systems, and energy usage overall. By making a conscious and public effort to reduce your water usage in parks and other community areas, your Parks & Recreation Department can set an example for your community and make an impact.

Experts estimate that 50 percent of the water we use outdoors goes to waste from evaporation, wind, or runoff due to overwatering.If you’re in an area with plenty of rainfall, you may not know that many municipalities in arid climates regulate what time of day people and corporations can water their lawns or other landscaping. This is because a significant amount of water from sprinklers is lost to evaporation12 during the heat of the day, particularly during summer months. If you don’t already, your parks and recreation department should change your watering schedule so that lawns and other landscaped areas are watered in the early morning or evening. You may want to introduce a hotline for the community to call and report broken sprinklers or other water waste at your facilities to help you keep an eye out.

Celebrate Earth Day every day to help drive community involvement

Alongside one billion people in organizations across the globe, everyone at ACTIVE Network actively supports Earth Day13. Celebrated every April 22, we encourage all of our partners to do the same. By offering Earth Day activities, organizing initiatives, and joining with other community leaders to sponsor Earth Day and continuing these initiatives throughout the year, you can help your community recognize the importance of conservation and ways they can help. Earth Day presents a unique opportunity to join a global effort to educate your community about the realities, challenges, and solutions of climate change.

There are dozens of ways to celebrate Earth Day in your community, including:

  • Holding your own teach-in or roundtable discussion at your facility to discuss local environmental issues
  • Participating in the 3 Billion Acts of Green initiative14
  • Kicking off initiatives to reduce paper and plastic waste throughout your organization, programs and parks, like discounts on registration for bringing in bottles to recycle.

Read more about ways your parks and recreation department can celebrate Earth Day and make an impact here15.

Start your environmental initiatives now

While there are many ways your organization can impact environmental conservation, the most important takeaway is that you start now with sustainable community programs. Reduce waste, increase awareness, and start organizing in your community today to make an impact. Our oceans, forests, and nature will thank you.

To learn more about how ACTIVE Network can reduce your organization’s paper use, get in touch today.



  1. https://www.earthday.org/2018/04/18/fact-sheet-how-much-disposable-plastic-we-use/
  2. https://www.eater.com/2018/7/12/17555880/plastic-straws-environment-pollution-banned-alternatives-ocean-sea-turtle-viral-video
  3. https://www.fastcompany.com/40580132/here-are-the-u-s-cities-that-have-banned-plastic-straws-so-far
  4. https://www.cnn.com/2018/07/11/health/plastic-straw-bans-disabled-trnd/index.html
  5. https://www.theworldcounts.com/stories/Paper-Waste-Facts
  6. https://www.activenetwork.com/solutions/active-net/lets-get-active/2016/08/how-much-time-money-paper-maintenance-are-you-spending-on-forms-infographic/
  7. https://www.nrpa.org/parks-recreation-magazine/2017/april/park-agencies-contributors-to-sustainability-in-their-communities/
  8. https://www.upcyclethat.com/
  9. https://www.activenetwork.com/solutions/active-net/lets-get-active/2018/01/how-to-have-you-greenest-year-yet/
  10. https://www.youthkiawaaz.com/2018/06/why-recycling-isnt-enough-and-what-is/
  11. https://www.thewaterpage.com/important-water.htm
  12. https://www.epa.gov/watersense/when-its-hot
  13. https://www.earthday.org/
  14. https://www.activenetwork.com/solutions/active-net/lets-get-active/2017/04/join-the-1-billion-on-april-22-to-celebrate-earth-day/
  15. https://www.activenetwork.com/solutions/active-net/lets-get-active/2017/04/join-the-1-billion-on-april-22-to-celebrate-earth-day/