Published On: Tue, Jul 12th, 2011

Celebration aims for a greener 2011 festival

4e1bc7fe782a3.preview-300Decatur Celebration produces literally tons of trash each year during its three-day run.

The weight of the garbage tossed out in 2010 was 20.09 tons, according to Ed Woker of Veolia Environmental Management in Decatur.

This year, the aim is for that total to be significantly lower. The festival runs from Aug. 5-7 in downtown Decatur.

As Celebration retools a number of things under the watchful eye of new director Lori Sturgill, she is introduces its first ever festival-wide recycling initiative. The Celebration director imagines this year’s initial efforts to go green as the start of a major overhaul on the event’s environmental impact.

“We are starting small this year because we need to make sure we do it right,” she said. “In this first year, all of the vendors have been told that recycling is mandatory, and they need to put their recyclables behind their booths when they set up. We will have a core group of volunteers called the Green Team who will come around and pick up anything that can be recycled instead of throwing it away.”

This small number of volunteers will negotiate the crowd on golf carts, collecting discarded materials and hauling them to the recyclable-only bins just off the official festival grounds, which will be located on William Street near Haines & Essick.

This area will also serve as the de facto Green Team staging point, from which the volunteers will enter Celebration and fulfill their main task, which is the emptying and maintenance of more than 250 new ClearStream recycling containers paired with garbage cans.

“There will be 50 different Green Team shifts to fill over the weekend,” Sturgill said. “They’ll check in and get their working orders from our partner, Macon County Environmental Management Department, which is coordinating the Green Team. We’ve split the festival up into quadrants, and that’s all they’ll do all day. The team is sponsored by ADM and PNC Bank, and they recruited the volunteers from their staffs.”

The idea for an ambitious recycling plan grew out of Sturgill’s conversations with representatives from festival sponsor Veolia, which provides the Celebration’s garbage bins. Implementing such a plan, however, isn’t as simple as putting out a few new recycling bins and recruiting volunteers to empty them. The Celebration also had to change many of its food and drink materials to complement the initiative.

“We had to change all of our beer cups to be recyclable this year, same with our Pepsi cups and the water bottles that are given away,” Sturgill said. “The bags themselves are clear so you can see what’s being put into them. The tops have holes that will only fit a cup, in hopes that what gets put in there doesn’t contaminate the other recyclables.”

Much of the program’s success will depend on the efforts of its non-Celebration coordinators. Debra Garrett, the director of the Macon County Environmental Management Department, was excited to receive the first call from Sturgill expressing an interest in adding recycling to the festival.

“Because she’s full of new ideas, she just sought us out without us contacting anyone at Celebration,” Garrett said. “When she called and asked if we were interested, I said ‘Yes! Definitely!’ We’ve really worked well together so far; it’s going even better than we hoped.”

Garrett said the ClearStream containers that will be used at Celebration were designed specifically for recycling at large events. The transparent containers, placed next to regular trash cans, should let festivalgoers know to deposit their cups and recyclable materials in the correct bin.

“Our studies indicate that having the two of them next to each other will make it more effective,” she said. “The bins not only encourage recycling, but their design really reduces contamination. It’s a very effective educational tool.”

Sturgill views the program as the first of many future efforts to go green, and is seeking inspiration from other outdoor festivals that have set the bar in lessening their environmental impact.

“This is only the beginning,” she said. “There are a lot of things that other festivals do that we can look into in the future. They compost, for one. They take all the food and reuse it. I’m not sure how exactly it’s handled – that’s why we’re not tackling it this year. I talked to Macon County Environmental Management, Veolia and Midwest Fiber, and we decided ‘let’s perfect the first step of it this year and then continue to grow in each festival after this one.’ One of the things we’ve discussed, for instance, is getting individual recycling containers for each vendor so they can handle their own materials and further free up the Green Team.”

One thing that will not change this year, however, is the overall number of trash cans, which will number 425 in all. In the future, that number may decrease if the recycling containers are effective in reducing the amount of trash, but for now, Sturgill calls the project a “training process” for the public.

“The first year is a trial run for everybody here, including members of the community,” she said. “It’s going to require people to sometimes be willing to walk a few extra steps to get to a recycling container instead of throwing something in the garbage. We’ll be relying on people to have heard the messages and see the containers and know what to do. As always, it comes down to the people to make the festival succeed.”

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