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Fest Zero: When Life Hands You Lemons, Compost Them

by on July 07, 2015 6:30 AM

Last year after the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts, Brad and Denise Fey sorted more than 700 discarded lemonade cups, pulling mangled, 5-day-old lemons from their plastic, sugary swimming pools.

They tossed the fruit into the compost bin, piled the plastic into neat piles headed to the miscellaneous plastic recycling container at the Centre County Recycling & Refuse Authority and saved an oddly placed, and very soggy $10 bill from a life in the landfill.

(The plastic cups, which are made of a different plastic than water bottles, can't go in the traditional recycling stream; they belong in "miscellaneous plastic.")

"Our neighbors kept doing double-takes as they were driving by wondering what we were doing with all those cups," Brad Fey recalls.

Fey is the founder of Fest Zero, a group of volunteers from the community, university, local government and Centre County Recycling & Refuse Authority, working toward a zero-waste festival. The lemonade project is just one of their many initiatives.

Fest Zero's biggest contribution to last year's arts festival was the addition of compost bins near all food vendors. It also placed recycling bins at every trash receptacle. Members of the borough's Green Crew (formerly known as the "Trash Crew") get credit for saving the lemonade cups from the recycling containers and setting them aside for Fest Zero, which made sure they landed in the right place.

Thanks to Fest Zero's efforts, approximately 4,000 pounds of recyclables were collected during the four day 2014 Arts Fest, a tenfold increase over 2013. According to a Centre County Recycling & Refuse Authority news release, recycling at last year's Arts Festival equated to an energy savings of approximately 90 households' yearly energy consumption, and two metric tons carbon equivalents of greenhouse gas reduction (according to the National Recycling Coalition's Environmental Benefits Calculator). "This is the same as removing one car from the road for a whole year," the news release notes.

Another benchmark for success: Fey has received calls from two other summer festivals, including the Grange Fair, asking Fest Zero to collaborate on their own efforts to reduce waste. "I haven't had the luxury to jump in and help others, but it is great to see the conversations starting," he says.

Building on last year's success, Fest Zero has added several major initiatives. It's working closely with Centre County Recycling & Refuse to add 26 bins just for lemonade cups. "I'm really excited to see how many lemonade cups we can get," Fey says. Volunteers from the State College Presbyterian Church will help process the cups, which entails emptying (and composting the lemons), rinsing and stacking them.

Another big development for this year: when you pick up lunch at the Cozy Thai stand, your Pad Thai will come in a compostable food container. The restaurant, which will deservedly get my lunch money this week, will go through about 2,000 containers, so that's a huge impact. While nothing is official yet, Fest Zero is working with Arts Fest to require other food vendors to follow Cozy Thai's example. Since the cost of moving to compostable materials is a valid concern, Fey's long-term goal is to raise enough money to orchestrate a large bulk buy and sell the materials back to the vendors at a discount. The first step is for Fest Zero to become a non-profit, which is imminent.

Like all worthwhile community movements, Fest Zero depends on the involvement of the citizens who will reap the benefits. How can you get involved? Follow Fest Zero on Facebook, Twitter and participate in one of several Fest Zero Arts Fest social media contests from an impressive group of community sponsors, including Rapid Transit, Harrison's Wine Grill & Catering, most of the Dante's Restaurants, Nature's Pantry and Friends & Farmers Cooperative Online Market. Buy a Fest Zero t-shirt at the information booth or sign up for a volunteer shift — the only requirement is a willingness to help.

Fey's own contribution is fueled by an awareness of how lucky we are to live in an area that's made such a formidable commitment to reducing waste. "We have such a great recycling program, and the people who work there travel the world to make connections — others look at them for their expertise," Fey says. "It's one of the main things I've learned: how awesome the people are in our county."


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Michele Marchetti is a freelance writer and the former managing editor of Prior to moving to State College, she spent more than 10 years writing for national magazines. Her work has appeared in a wide variety of publications, including Fortune, Fortune Small Business, Glamour, U.S. News & World Report, Runner's World, Good Housekeeping, Working Mother, Yoga Life and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Follow her on Twitter at or contact her at [email protected]
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