Eight years ago, after Kimberley’s inaugural Round the Mountain (RTM) Festival, I remember kneeling on the ground going through the garbage collected during the event, crying. There was so much waste. Seven extra large garbage bags and none of the waste had been sorted. I tried to retrieve what I could, such as cans, plastic bottles, cardboard and paper to at least be recycled. So much was contaminated and ended up in landfill anyway. After such a wonderful event bringing the community together to celebrate Kimberley’s Trail Network, it was a complete downer.
Fast forward eight years. This year’s festival was a completely different story with a happy ending. Only 1 bag of garbage went to landfill and no tears were shed! The answer: It takes a team, a system, and trash needs to be a festival organizing priority. Last year we implemented the RTM Trash Team consisting of six volunteers. To successfully reduce event waste, it needs to be properly sorted at the time of disposal and under the watchful eye of the RTM Trash Team. Food scraps, compost, returnables, recyclables and least of all, garbage were all separated. In previous years we had the bins labeled but not monitored with the hope everyone would do the right time and deposit their waste properly. Unfortunately that didn’t work and a lot of sorting still had to be done after the fact. People seem more willing to do the right thing with friendly supervision and it also provides a great learning opportunity for everyone.
The results from last year’s festival day, when we made Zero-Waste an event priority were impressive, only one and a half bags of garbage ended up in landfill. We have seen a steady reduction in trash but we still aim to do better every year. What is also worth mentioning is RTM Festival has grown from 264 competitors in 2011 to 500 in 2018. We also have 100 amazing volunteers and more than 200 spectators on the day. Even well before the big day, waste sorting began, from the volunteer information night on Thursday, through site set up and competitor registration on Saturday. One garbage bag for over 1000 people’s waste over 4 days proves the Zero-Waste goal is realistic.
This year we took it up a notch and asked our food vendors, competitors and volunteers to be more eco-conscious. The food vendors, Flippin’ Crepes and Heartbeet Catering who fortunately are already waste conscious, didn’t use plastic straws, cutlery, plates/bowls or sell bottled water Instead plant starch based compostable and recyclable plastic items were used. We challenged the competitors to carry their own hydration pack or water bottle on course and we only supplied compostable paper based cups at the aid stations. We encouraged the competitors and volunteers to bring their own washable utensils/plates/cups and water bottle to the Festival.
As organisers, we provided a water station with 100 washable and reusable hard plastic cups we borrowed from the local Elks Club. These were also used for racer refreshments at the finish line and were continuously collected and thoroughly washed to be reused throughout the day.
At the end of this year’s RTM Festival we collected two huge bins of compost that Cominco Gardens joyfully added to their impressive compost pile, one bag of food scraps for friends of friends’ pigs, one large bag of cans and bottles, three large bins of recyclables to the nearby RDEK Yellow Recycle Bin, and as previously mentioned one large bag of garbage which ended up at the local dump.
The RTM Trash Team who are all so passionate about waste, may be a little confronting at times, but were there to help educate on responsible waste management and our environmental impact. We examined what ended up in the garbage this year to see how we could better manage waste next year. Paper takeout cups, bits of plastics, sports gel containers, unrecyclable plastic containers, chip packets, some plastic straws, collected dog poo and diapers were the main culprits. So many competitors and spectators came to the RTM Festival with some waste such as takeaway coffee cups which, apart from the lid and sleeve, end up in landfill.
We already have some ideas for how we can improve for next year’s RTM Festival and get closer in achieving our goal to be a be a Zero-Waste Event. Large festivals can be eco-conscious but it does take a village to be successful. It takes some passion, organisation and planning but we challenge other events to also make this a priority.