Recycling: A fair test of festival recycling practices

For The Register-Guard Aug. 21, 2000

EVER FOUND yourself at a festival, celebration or sporting event with an empty soda can and nowhere to recycle it?

Folks who've lived in Oregon for a while develop a condition characterized by an inability to throw things away, accompanied by anxiety when faced with disposing of something they know has value. One of the symptoms is carefully setting a soda can on top of or beside a garbage can in hopes that someone will see it and take it for recycling.

Lane County residents do a good job of recycling at home and should be able to recycle at festivals and celebrations, too.

If you attended the Lane County Fair last week, you may have noticed new recycling stations. These recycling stations are therapy for the afflicted and one step toward the Lane County Fair's vision of becoming a "zero waste" fair. The fair's goal is zero waste going to the landfill. The fair encouraged visitors to participate with the catchy, Zenlike slogan "Think Zero."

Although it may be a while before zero waste is achieved, the fair made some significant changes to its current waste management program to get it on the road to 100 percent recovery.

One of the first challenges of becoming waste free is determining what kinds of materials are in your particular waste stream. Once identified, programs can be developed to eliminate the waste or divert it from the landfill.

As you might guess, animals generate a big part of the fair's waste. For just about as long as anyone can remember, the fair has offered the manure and animal bedding generated at the fairgrounds to farmers and individuals, or paid to have it delivered to commercial composting sites. This effort alone diverts a substantial amount of material from the landfill.

There are also other sources at the fair that create organic compostable material - the food booths!

Folks visit the fair for fresh corn on the cob and just-squeezed lemonade, some of the true tastes of summer. When you're shucking corn or squeezing lemons for more than 200,000 visitors, it adds up to a lot of compostable food waste.

Since 1997, Solid Waste and Recycling staff for the city of Eugene have teamed up with compost specialists to assist vendors in composting. This year, city staff provided vendors with a container lined with compostable bags for food preparation discards.

Once the vendors filled their containers with food discards, they could toss the food waste (bag and all) in a container for composting at one of the four recycling stations the fair provided for the vendors. These food discards were then delivered to Rexius to be composted. Other materials collected at these stations included cardboard, grease, glass, tin/aluminum and plastic.

Sanipac, the waste hauler for the fairgrounds, offered a $250 reward to the vendor with the most recycling savvy.

Besides vendors, guests generate a fair (pun intended) amount of waste, too.

Lane County Waste Management loaned four recycling stations to the fair to provide visitors with the opportunity to recycle soda cans, glass bottles, flyers and plastic bottles. The city of Eugene added its Pete's Big Bin containers for collection of plastic bottles to those already owned by the fair.

But these items make up a small portion of the waste generated at the fair because vendors are prohibited from selling beverages in cans or glass, and most people don't bring a lot of cans or glass into the site.

The big-ticket waste item at the fair is food and food service materials. Think of all the curly fries, hot dogs, barbecue and cotton candy served on paper plates with plastic utensils. Diverting it is a key challenge to becoming a zero waste operation.

If festivals and events could divert all of the paper plates, napkins, curly fries, hot dogs and cups from the landfill, this activity alone could reduce waste by roughly 60 percent. There are two major barriers to this effort.

First, many paper plates, cups and eating utensils are not recyclable or compostable. Festival planners can address the issue of noncompostable food service packaging by requiring vendors to use only compostable types. Certain manufacturers not only offer compostable plates and cups, but forks, knives and spoons, as well.

Even if the fair required its vendors to use compostable food service ware and visitors participated in separating their food waste from other waste, the second barrier to diverting this material is that there is no permitted composting facility to accept it in this area. The closest one is in Arlington, about 250 miles from Eugene.

A committee comprised of representatives of the city of Eugene Solid Waste and Recycling, Lane County Waste Management, Sanipac, Lane County Fairgrounds and the Master Recycler program met before the fair to discuss how to reduce the amount of waste generated at the fair.

Plans to offer this kind of assistance to other festivals and celebrations throughout Lane County are in the works.

Lane County Waste Management will make the recycling stations used at the fair available to other festivals and celebrations. The county will also work with festival planners to integrate waste reduction techniques into their events.

Festivals and celebrations are a place for all of us to come together and celebrate the things we value.

It's only natural that we have the opportunity to recycle at our festivals just like we do at home. A festival must be a good member of the community and consider the impact it has on natural resources and the landfill.

We, as festival participants, have a responsibility as well to join in and assist the festivals in waste reduction efforts. Together, we can let go of our soda cans in good conscience.

This column is provided by Lane County Recycling.

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