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Festival Recycling: 3 Lessons Learned

On Thursday I talked about some of the vendors I discovered at the Boston Local Food Festival. But the thing I was really taken with last year was the trash collection. This year they diverted 13.16% more waste  than last year—by composting 3,600 lbs, recycling 1,820 lbs, and only throwing away 900 lbs.

I even tried to model this year’s Berklee BeanTown Jazz Festival on it, which was only somewhat successful. We recycled for the first time—so much that we overflowed our capacity for it. But the composting didn’t go over so well, and the whole thing was unnecessarily hectic.

The Boston Local Food Festival's waste stations.

So what did I learn from the comparison?

  • Require compostable dishes. The Boston Local Food Festival’s composting worked because people didn’t have to dispose of their food and dishes separately or worry that food contaminated their recyclable dishes. Everything could just be thrown in together. Compostable dishes were a requirement that was included in the food vendors’ contracts.
  • Use a single waste disposal company. Save That Stuff handled the collection and disposal of the recycling, composting, and trash. Berklee used Jet-A-Way for trash, Capital Paper Recycling for recycling, Planet Police for compost, and Acme Building Services to collect it all. This made sense in our last-minute scramble to pull this all together, since they’re all companies that Berklee already contracts with, but it made for a disjointed and inefficient system. With one company, the collectors are knowledgable about the process—I saw one Save That Stuff woman reaching into the trash (with gloves) to pull out plates that people had mistakenly thrown away, decreasing the trash by at least half. This is actually in Save That Stuff’s best interest, since it costs more to throw stuff away than to recycle or compost it.
  • Enlist passionate volunteers. The Boston Local Food Festival had two friendly volunteers at each station to educate people about what goes where. BeanTown had one student at each, who had been randomly assigned the job. Some of them were great at engaging festivalgoers; others, not so much. Enlisting volunteers who are actually enthusiastic and knowledgable about reducing waste would help.

The Berklee BeanTown Jazz Festival's waste stations.

There are other things that I might change next year, but these are the biggies. We’re actually looking at hiring Clean Vibes to handle the waste disposal for BeanTown next year. They’re the same company that did the Life Is Good festival. Has anyone else ever used them?


Comment from Sharon
Time October 7, 2011 at 9:34 pm

Wouldn’t it be cool if the service came with, if not actual volunteers/staffers, then a list of people who are interested in environmental volunteering opportunities? So when you contract them for a festival, you get a list of people who might be willing to show up and educate folks on which bins to use, either free or for a nominal per diem?

Just spitballing here. I think that could be a cool recurring volunteer opportunity, the kind of thing high schoolers who need community service could sign up for.

Comment from Brenda Pike
Time October 8, 2011 at 9:32 am

Clean Vibes brings in their own volunteers! I really hope they work out for next year.

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