Rick Mah was inspired to reduce waste at city festivals when he heard from his daughter about similar initiatives in Vancouver.
“She was living there and brought it to my attention; they’re way ahead of us in this area. I had been thinking about it, but at that time I didn’t have the finances to make it happen,” Mah says.
That changed two years ago when Mah, who is one of the organizers of YXE’s Foodtruck Wars Street Festival, partnered with Affinity Credit Union (ACU) to make the festival “zero waste.”
Mah says “they can’t control what people bring in,” but the goal is for the festival to generate little to no waste itself.
Courtney Tait, the community advisor at ACU, said the Foodtruck Wars diverted roughly 75 per cent of its waste away from the landfill last year. Instead, waste ended up in recycling or composting stations.
“Last year’s Foodtruck Wars was the pilot, so we took what we learned and expanded it this year,” Tait said.
This year, the zero-waste program included the Saskatchewan Marathon, the Nutrien Children’s Festival of Saskatchewan, the Living Green Expo, the Saskatoon Zoo Society’s Community Day and the Nutrien Fireworks Festival.
For all of the events, ACU works in partnership with the Saskatchewan Waste Reduction Council (SWRC), which provides technical support for the project, including training volunteers and sending information to event organizers about what sorts of things can be recycled or composted. ACU volunteers bring recycling, composting and garbage stations to the festivals, set them up and monitor them, telling event-goers what to throw where.
Although final numbers haven’t been calculated for 2019, Tait says preliminary estimates suggest events have been able to divert between 70 to more than 90 per cent of waste from landfills. Now that this weekend’s Nutrien Fireworks Festival has concluded, the group is expected to release numbers related to the mass of recycling and composting collected at this summer’s festivals in the near future.
All festivals adopted different strategies to reduce waste.
At Foodtruck Wars this year, vendors were given a $150 rebate to change all their food wares to compostable or recyclable options — things like paper straws and cutlery made out of bamboo or rice. There was a ban on tinfoil, styrofoam and things like single-use packaged condiments.
Compost bins were given to each food truck to collect organic materials throughout the festival.
“We encouraged people as much as possible to go compostable materials first, instead of recyclable, because compost breaks down and goes back into the earth,” Tait says.
At the Children’s Festival, ACU worked with community partners to make activities and crafts less wasteful. Refillable water bottle stations were installed and there was a ban on confetti and balloons.
With the Fireworks Festival, one of the unique challenges is cleaning up the site because the event ends so late. Festival director Kim Ali said she hopes a focus on less waste will address that issue.
“My expectation is that this year it will be mostly taken care of throughout the festival, so there’s no trash left behind. Events are notorious for creating a lot of waste, so I think this initiative makes our festivals that much better.”
One of the key pieces of the zero-waste initiative is the focus on educating event-goers.
“Having someone there explaining what went in recycling or composting really lowered our waste,” said Darcie Young, general manager for the Children’s Festival.
“If you just put a bin out that says ‘Recycling,’ there’s going to be some garbage in there and then the whole bin has to be thrown out because it’s contaminated.”
ACU staff have been trained by the SWRC on composting and recycling specifics and Loraas was contracted to collect the recycling and compost.
A new Loraas facility that opened in June has a compost system that employs heat.
“It can take the majority of waste that comes out of a food truck, including meat, cheese and fats,” Tait said.
Cassandra Stinn, one of the co-founders of Waste Not YXE, a Facebook group and online community dedicated to reducing waste, says education is the key takeaway.
“I think when you have a big event you have the opportunity to have a lot of people asking important questions. It’s a chance to normalize people taking responsibility for the packaging, and for the way that they’re leaving the space,” Stinn says. “I think that can have an important ripple effect. You see it even with the amount of people using reusable bags at grocery stores. Ten years ago, that was a weird hippie thing to do, but now, it’s just not weird.”
Young says the Children’s Festival is also a good opportunity to educate kids about waste, noting that “this is the time to get them into it.”
Tait says ACU hopes to expand the program in the future.
“We are definitely committed to doing the same events next year and potentially even expanding. If other people start taking the concept and copying us, that’s fine too. We just want it to become the norm,” she says.
Stinn says she wants to see waste reduction efforts become the standard at city festivals.
“These events also have a very direct relationship with our city, whether or not the municipal government is actually involved with the event itself, it’s a city event. I think if the city’s really clear that this is their standard for public events, then that sends an important message about how important it is to take these kinds of things into consideration.”