The Proud, the Few... the Trash Crew is No More
No disrespect to the unglamorous job the Trash Crew has done over the years keeping our streets clean during Arts Fest, but I'm happy to report that a more relevant group is taking its place: the Green Crew.
The Green Crew grew out of a group that started meeting back in February with the goal of helping the festival become a zero-waste event. I've been following its progress with great interest.
Like many locals, I count Arts Fest as a highlight of my summer. My first stop typically has nothing to do with music or art. It's the food. But I've always been troubled by the waste. Somewhere there's a landfill straining from a mountain of plastic cups built on the purchases at Arts Fest. In fact, the entire borough takes in an extra 75 tons of trash during the festival.
This was equally troublesome to Brad Fey, a local musician and entrepreneur. But instead of complaining, he acted. He contacted the Centre County Recycling & Refuse Authority to see if his goal of a zero-waste festival was even feasible. After a positive response, he approached Carol Baney, director operations for Arts Fest and a friend from Rotary Club. "I thought Brad wanted his band to play [in Arts Fest]," she recalls of the initial conversation. "But he said, 'I'm here to talk about trash.'"
Baney was sold, and took it to the board, which set a goal to refine the initiative in time for the festival's 50th anniversary in 2016.
Fest Zero was born. The group isn't a non-profit, although that's a goal. For now, it's simply a group of volunteers from the community, local government, and university working around a common cause. The biggest changes from last year will be a recycling can at every trash receptacle and compost bins near all the food vendors. "So if you're eating chicken on a stick on a paper plate, you can just toss that right into the compost bin," Fey says. (Assuming that stick is made of wood, he adds.) And members of the Green Crew will be on hand to make sure you know where to dump your items.
The borough will audit its trash during Arts Fest so the group has a starting point to measure its impact. If all goes according to plan, in future years they'll transition to where all the trash cans are just compost cans.
For that to happen, vendors need to change. As a first step in that process, the group is compiling a database of all the materials brought by food vendors. Fey envisions Fest Zero as a partner in guiding the vendors through the potentially costly transition to compostable items. If the group becomes a non-profit and receives grants, it can even offer the vendors these materials at a discount.
While making changes with vendors is still in the future, the group has plenty it can focus on right now. It's meeting with local restaurants, encouraging them to cut back on their waste. Fey happily discovered that Dante's recently launched its own sustainability initiative. In April the restaurant group enrolled in a commercial composting program with the Centre County Recycling & Refuse Authority.
Initiatives like these send a powerful message to others who visit our town: If they can do it do, why can't we? "People are looking at us," Baney says. "This is great opportunity to spread the word." A powerful incentive: That 75 tons of extra trash equates to about $5,000 in added costs.
As for those lemonade cups? It's complicated. The plastic cups can't go in the traditional recycling stream because they're miscellaneous plastic. And if the lemons remain in the cup, they mess up the sorting process at the county level. At a minimum, someone from the Green Crew will be nearby trying to capture the lemons for compost. And hopefully some day we'll be drinking that lemonade from a compostable cup that can be tossed — guilt-free — into the compost bin.
So while you're enjoying the Arts Fest food this year, stop by the Fest Zero Education Booth, which will be manned by student and university representatives from The Sustainability Institute. Even better, join the Green Crew by visiting Fest Zero on Facebook. They'll need a lot of volunteers to make this initiative successful.
We've nearly conquered cleaning up our streets. But our Arts Fest footprint transcends what we can see — and what's too easy to ignore.
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