Thursday 2 July 2015

Event Planning with a Difference: Cut the Waste, Save Energy

Summer is festival season in Saskatoon, and it’s great to see throngs of people enjoying the downtown parks. But you’ll also see rows of enormous garbage containers. There has to be a way to reduce the quantity of dirty Styrofoam containers, empty plastic water bottles, and leftover food that find their way into the garbage.

There is a way. Other cities are actively promoting waste-free events, and we can too. Speakers at the Saskatchewan Waste Reduction Council’s Bigger Events, Smaller Footprints workshop in April provided practical tips for reducing waste and saving energy at events of all sizes.

Do It Green, Calgary 
Christopher Dunlap and two of his friends volunteered with the Calgary Folk Fest to eliminate bottled water and eventually divert 80% of the waste from the landfill. Their efforts generated awards and other festivals started asking Christopher and his friends for help. They decided to start Do It Green (DIG), an event management company specializing in sustainability and zero waste.

DIG’s services include environmental auditing, waste management (set up and staff waste stations, plate return and reuse program, compostable toilets); sustainable water (H2O Buggies) and transportation (bike valet) options; as well as volunteer recruitment, training, and management.

Regina Folk Festival
Dayle Schroeder, the Production Manager for the Regina Folk Festival, is responsible for site management, and this includes all aspects of environmental stewardship.

Environmental stewardship is included in everything the Festival does and they actively look for opportunities to minimize their impact on the environment. This isn’t a simple task as over 35,000 people come through Victoria Park during the festival.

City of Saskatoon 
Daniel Mireault is the Recycling Coordinator for the City of Saskatoon. The City recycled 11,000 tonnes in 2014, but it still has a long way to go. 20% of the waste in multi-use recycling bins (during the first five months of operation in 2015) shouldn’t have been there or was contaminated. The City now has a recycling education unit that they will be setting up at events to help educate the public.

The City also has plans to join the National Zero Waste Council, which focuses on waste generation and ways to reduce packaging. Long-term plans include building the business case for an organics composting facility, establishing a green purchasing policy, and investigating landfill bans on items such as cardboard and organics.

Waste Audit 
The first step in greening your event is to carry out a waste audit. A waste audit identifies the type of waste that is created and benchmarks your performance.

Each event is different and will require different solutions. After many years of experience, the four-day Calgary Folk Fest diverted 88% of its waste from the landfill in 2014. The 2014 Calgary Marathon generated almost as much waste in just half a day – and only diverted 68%.

Dayle says it’s tough at a large, crowded event to make it easy for participants to recycle. Setting out recycling bins isn’t enough. You need to actively encourage people to recycle. Another trick is to cover the garbage bins so people won’t be tempted to simply throw their waste away at the first available opportunity.

Volunteers are key to an event’s success at waste reduction. Volunteers can help participants to sort their waste – recyclables in one bin, compostables in another. They can also encourage people to be attentive and help them to feel good about doing their part to reduce waste.

It's a big commitment. DIG had 20 volunteers plus partners and staff taking four-hour shifts at the Calgary Marathon. One solution may be to find a corporate sponsor who will provide volunteers and/or incentives for volunteers.

Food Waste
One of the biggest sources of waste at any event is food and food containers. Calgary is fortunate enough to have an industrial composter, so they are able to divert all their food waste and compostable containers from the landfill.

The industrial composter isn’t dependent on DIG for raw materials. The Calgary Zoo, various restaurants, and four Calgary communities also collect their organic waste and send it in to be composted.

Unfortunately, Saskatoon doesn’t have an industrial composter, but the City is exploring opportunities for expanding their organic waste facilities. They started by switching from Styrofoam to compostable plates at the City’s annual Pancake Breakfast. They collected all the organic waste and took it to the City’s yard waste site to be composted. The trial run was successful and in future the City may be open to taking single loads of compostables as a pilot project to test their system. 

Compostable Plates and Cups 
Daniel says it’s important to find the right suppliers as some plates and cups compost better than others. They must be compostable, not simply bio-degradable.

Compostable containers cost more money. DIG works closely with Calgary food trucks so that all the vendors use compostable containers. This ensures that the added cost is a shared burden rather than placing some vendors in a higher price bracket than others. By planning in advance and working closely with food vendors, you may also be able to eliminate unnecessary food services packaging (e.g. providing large bottles of ketchup rather than single-serving pouches).

The Regina Folk Festival obtains kegs of beer from Big Rock Brewery. The Festival provides compostable cups that the brewery then ships to Alberta to be composted. The Festival has achieved an 85% return rate on the cups, but it’s not easy as the compostable beer cups melt and make a mess, so they need to be kept cool alongside the beer.

The Regina Folk Festival has worked very hard to eliminate bottled water backstage. It’s difficult as many of the artists request bottled water in their contracts. The solution has been to provide crew and artists with branded water bottles, set up coolers where they can be refilled, and have volunteers on hand to wash and refill bottles.

The Regina festival also attempted to eliminate plastic water bottles for the public, but experienced a lot of backlash from vendors and the public. They had to take a step backwards and allow vendors to sell bottled water. However, they have also commissioned water tanks for hand washing and water bottle refill.

DIG supplies H2O Buggies with clean, cold, filtered water.

The Saskatchewan Jazz Festival plans to provide water this year.

Saskatoon Cycles’ Bike Valet offers bicycle parking at many Saskatoon events. The Regina Folk Festival has a similar arrangement with Bike Regina.

DIG offers safe bicycle lock-up and will assist event planners in promoting sustainable transportation options.

As befits their mandate, the Saskatchewan Waste Reduction Council attempts to limit the waste at their annual conference. This presents some unique challenges as they are working with multiple venues and lots of different suppliers. Here are some of their recommendations:

  • Choose your venue based on its environmental performance (e.g. hotels with four Green Keys or higher) 
  • Choose a location with easy access by public transit (e.g. downtown) and provide shared transportation or walk to other venues 
  • Provide recycling for trade show displayers 
  • Reuse conference signage or develop electronic signage 
  • Go paperless as much as possible (e.g. provide the program as an electronic app) 
  • Purchase carbon offsets for speakers and conference registrants 
  • Partner with Bullfrog Power to purchase green energy for your event 

In 2011, the Regina Folk Festival invested in LED lighting for the main stage. The stage had been consuming as much electricity in one weekend as a family home would in a month – they were able to cut that figure in half.

Additional Information 
The following websites provide useful information on planning a green event:
Greening Your Event, City of Vancouver 
How to Plan a Sustainable Event, Sustainable Communities Online

Garbage bins along the waterfront, Kolkata, India – Shelley Ballard-McKinlay